October 22, 2013

Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Theft: Three defendants plead guilty. Radu Dogaru criticizes museum's security

Radu Dogaru, Alexandru Bitu and Eugen Darie, pled guilty today in a Bucharest courtroom for their part in the October 16, 2012 theft of seven paintings (Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London and Charing Cross Bridge, London, Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin, Gauguin's Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte, Matisse's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune, De Haan's Autoportrait, and Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed) belonging to the Triton Foundation and on display at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam.

In his deposition to prosecutors, primary suspect Radu Dogaru contradicted his mother's earlier confession to burning the paintings telling the court that his mother made these statements under pressure from long interrogation by the Romanian police.

Criticisms of security

Dogaru went on to add disparaging comments about the perceived level of security at the Rotterdam museum saying "At first I thought the paintings were fake, because it was so easy to get inside."   He went on to contrast the security at the Kunsthal with that of the Louvre adding "where they have real security".  In pleading guilty Dogaru told the court he gained entry to the museum by opening the door with a screwdriver, adding he could even have entered without any tools. 

In an even more brassy twist of events, Dogaru's attorney, Cătălin Dancu, stated that they are considering hiring Dutch lawyers to introduce an action in court citing negligent security at the Kunsthal as the mitigating circumstance that led to her client's role in the late night thefts.   In addition to blaming the gallery for her client's sticky fingers, Dancu spoke with reporters during a break from the court proceedings and stated that Dogaru had inside help in the heist.  

When asked by the judge whether he had inside help, Dogaru refused to reveal the alleged unnamed accomplice's identity.

Sources:
http://www.reporterntv.ro/flux/radu-dogaru-eugen-darie-si-alexandru-bitu-au-recunoscut-faptele-de-care-sunt-acuzati-in-dosarul-furtului-de-tablouri

http://nos.nl/artikel/565440-verdachten-kunstroof-dagen-rdam.html

October 19, 2013

From Outside Neolithic Walls: It’s a Matter of Scale and Resources*

Participants attending PRTP-Zagreb
from March 10-15, 2013
Source: Holocaust Art Restitution Project
by Martin Terrazas, ARCA Class 2013

This is in response to several messages in the past weeks in retrospect of time spent in Amelia: 

The multidisciplinary approach undertaken by both the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and Provenance Research Training Program is enriching and valuable. As can be understood in headlines regarding the fight over control of auction houses; the demands of the international art market require broad perspectives, for example, where an art historian is able to discuss accounting, archaeology, criminology, finance, history, and law, to name just a few examples, in passing conversation. The future of sound due diligence and reasonable provenance research depend on these individuals to engage in collaborative dialogues in an organic fashion; to make it second nature to elicit information and ask for assistance when problems arise. Globalized business, proper execution of deliverables, and dignified presentation is no longer optional; partnerships, as can be seen by recent headlines, can destruct in moments.

Taking a page from military vocabulary: VUCA is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. What has been the largest lesson from both programs is to embrace VUCA. When a “poison pill” comes your way, it is essential not to recourse into territoriality, but rather to accept and learn how to improve operations. Realizing that leadership is not a prize, but rather an obligation to serve, is something that many have forgotten on the way towards comfort: When cultural property has unknown provenance or has been stolen, it hurts not only the responsible parties, but all involved in the market. Provenance research and art crime prevention is a means to an end, whether or not that be restitution and repatriation or seizure and legal sentence by respective authorities. There is no reason for delay regarding important issues such as who has proper title and what occurred at the scene of the crime. Instead of bureaucracy, individuals are owed personal honesty and scientific investigation. Cooperation between parties is essential.

In Amelia, there were discussions regarding the need for a focus in the international art market through financial statements and the fundamentals of business. For example, sometimes artists don't know how to balance a check book. While easy to criticize, even seasoned businessmen and businesswomen in the industry are guilty of this lapse of judgement. This is a lesson that is particular poignant, not only after Mr. Loeb's letter regarding management at Sotheby's, the current controversy at the Detroit Institute of Arts, changes with the Art Loss Register, Art Recovery International, and the Art Compliance Company, but also with news of China Poly's planned Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. At the end of the day, these are also business. Despite its cost on the balance sheet, protecting the consumer through investigation of provenance, is a priority. It will be more expensive in the long-run selling damaged goods.

Conversations in the past months have made it clear that there is not one definitive individual or source regarding data authority in the art market. There is no one single panacea, roughly phrased, for the ill that is looted cultural property without good provenance: Anyone to state differently ought to be questioned. (The discussion over SB 2212: United States Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act can included in this reference. UNESCO has been notoriously absent in its opinion of the legislation.) A tide of transparency has been occurring in the art market whether desired or not. Maybe not in a year or a decade; given the current trends starting with past generations, it seems to be increasingly harder to hide and sell devalued illicit cultural property

To paraphrase Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter’s latest TEDx talk titled “Why business can be good a solving social problems”
What separates this time from any other brief time on earth is awareness.
Why are we having so much difficult struggling with these problems?
While clearly Mr. Porter referenced larger ills; the concept remains fundamental. The international art market, like all business, is charged to create shared value. Given the recent headlines, it is important to ask: 
Is the international art market properly creating this value? 

If not, how can it be improved? 
What is each of us doing to make it so?

* The author acknowledges that the article may seem convoluted and difficult to understand. All questions and commentary are welcome and will be answered on the Holocaust Art Restitution Facebook page after posting.

October 18, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013 - ,, No comments

Stamp theft: Coin expert and former head of a prestigious Swedish museum charged with stealing valuable stamps from auction house Philea in Stockholm

by A. M. C. Knutsson

A well-known coin expert and former head of a prestigious Swedish museum has just been charged with several stamp thefts from the auction house Philea in Stockholm. The man, a long standing client at the auction house, was suspected of stealing as early as February of this year. Whilst the staff were discussing what action to take, the man departed with the stolen objects. Philea reported the thefts to the police who suggested that as the man was a regular, they should plan a trap to acquire further evidence against the man.

On May 8th, the day of the next stamp auction at Philea, the police and the staff were ready. As soon as the coin expert left his home, the police shadowed him all the way to the auction house. Once there, the man took his regular corner seat which allowed him a full view of the room and the staff but not the CCTV camera straight behind him. Almost as soon as the stamps had arrived before him, the man started pocketing them. This lasted for an hour and a half. As soon as the man went to leave the building, the police emerged and arrested the culprit. Within his pockets, they found 94 stamps, with a total value of around 20,000 Swedish kronor. The man confessed to have stolen stamps on three separate occasions for a total loss estimated by the auction house of 100,000 kronor.

The expert targeted midrange stamps, ranging from 50 kronor up towards several thousands. According to Philea spokesman Christer Svensson, the most expensive stamps had a much higher level of security so the thief was clever to target the less conspicuous items.

The man who is well known in the museum world for his expertise in coins is also an avid stamp collector. The thefts started after he lost his position as the head of a well regarded museum. In interrogations, the suspect claims to have been suffering from depression and has been seeing a psychologist in order to deal with his stealing. According to sources, he is looking for help as he wants to control his stealing which he describes as a form of kleptomania. He firmly asserts that he has never stolen anything else. When the auction house sent a bill for the approximated amount of 100,000 kronor, the expert paid it promptly. In addition to this he was fined 9,500 kronor. The man has previously bought stamps at the auction house for about 1 million kronor but Philea has made clear that no one who steals is welcome back.

Further information:

October 17, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - , No comments

Film director Medeiros on whether or not Vincenzo Peruggia hid in the closet before he stole the Mona Lisa in 1911

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Did Vincenzo Peruggia just walk into the Louvre on a Monday morning and steal the Mona Lisa or did he hide overnight in the Paris museum? Was Peruggia an employee of the Louvre at the time of the theft? Did he pick Leonardo da Vinci's painting because it was small and portable (the easiest to take of the Italian works on display in the Salon Carré? I asked these questions to Joe Medeiros, writer and director of "The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story".
Actually, Peruggia wasn't working at the Louvre when he stole the painting.  He had finished putting the artwork behind glass in January.  But Gobier, the company he worked for, continued to work there repairing the glass roof of the museum.  Peruggia had left Gobier in July during a strike and had gone to work with another company. I do think he stole it for the size, but also -- possibly --because it was a Leonardo. According to his testimony -- and the police didn't dispute it -- he entered that morning and didn't hide overnight.  No reason to.  Security was very lax.
Here is a link to the documentary's blog where Mr. Medeiros posts all the screenings.

If you're in San Diego tonight, you might be able to catch the show!

October 13, 2013

"The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story" documents an art crime and a writer's obsession to understand motive

Joe and Justine Medeiros in Hollywood
 at the Arclight Documentary Festival
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

“The Missing Piece: Mona Lisa, Her Thief, The True Story”, winner of the award for Best Historical Documentary in the San Antonio Film Festival, provides clarity on how and why an immigrant housepainter, Vincenzo Peruggia, stole Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre in 1911.

Written and directed by Joe Medeiros and produced by his wife Justine, this documentary of a Parisian art theft tells the story of one writer’s obsession that lead him to a Northern Italian village to meet the art thief’s only living offspring, 84-year-old Celestina. Joe Medeiros hoped that Peruggia’s daughter could explain why her father, an immigrant painter living in Paris, had stolen the da Vinci masterpiece from the Salon Carré and hidden it for two years. Was Peruggia a patriot who believed he was returning a masterpiece Napoleon had stolen from Italy? Or was he an ordinary criminal looking to make a fortune? Unfortunately, Celestina did not remember her father who had died of a heart attack in Paris before she was two years old. Not until the age of 20 did Celestina learn from her aunt that her father had stolen the Mona Lisa. After promising to find out what motivated Celestina's father to steal da Vinci's masterpiece, Joe and Justine Medeiros visited the Louvre and archives in Paris with Peruggia’s grandson before traveling with Peruggia's granddaughter to the hotel where the painting was recovered in Florence in 1913.

“The Missing Piece” documents the efforts to research, translate and retrace a century old art crime. Art crime specialists such as Charles Hill, Scotland Yard Art Squad (retired), and Robert Wittman, FBI Art Crime Team (retired), appear with Louvre curators and other writers on the Mona Lisa theft (Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, The Crimes of Paris). Medeiros draws conclusions from primary sources to explain how Peruggia stole the painting and got it out of his museum and to his apartment (apparently he used both a bus and a horse carriage); where he stored the painting for two years; how the French police investigated the crime and how close the great detective  came to identifying both the thief and the painting’s hiding place; and finally, the “missing piece” which leads conclusively to the motive for the theft. The story includes Peruggia’s bouts with lead poisoning, the truth about the psychological evaluation used in his trial, and how Peruggia returned to France after his imprisonment during World War I. The film ends with Joe Medeiros revealing the truth to Celestina, turning the story from art crime to that of family.

"It's not a big, budget Hollywood movie, but it does tell a good story that has a beginning, middle and, fortunately, a happy ending," Joe Medeiros said.

The movie's website and blog contains more information.

Tanya Lervik (ARCA 2011) reviewed this movie last year at a screening in Washington, D.C.

October 12, 2013

ARCA Symposium in London at the V&A on November 7, 2013 focuses on Art Recovery & Reward and Art Forgery & Provenance

The V&A will host a one-day symposium on art crime, organized by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art). The event will feature leading speakers in the fields of investigation and art crime research providing in-depth talks on the subjects of Art Recovery & Reward and Art Forgery & Provenance.

V & A Blue Gallery
Session 1 - Art Recovery & Reward - 10:00 am
Detective Sergeant Claire Hutcheon, Metropolitan Police, Head of the Art & Antiques Unit.
Charlie Hill, Security Adviser and Art Crime Researcher, Former Detective Chief Inspector, Metropolitan Police

Richard Ellis, Director of the Art Management Group, Former Head of the Art & Antiques Unit, Metropolitan Police.
Jonathan Jones, author, lecturer, journalist and art critic for The Guardian
                                                         Session 2 – Art Forgery & Provenance – 3:00 pm
by Moody, Francis Wollaston
Vernon Rapley, Head of Security and Visitor Services at the V&A, Chairman National Museum Security Group, Former Head of the Art & Antiques Unit, Metropolitan Police
Christopher Marsden, Sr. Archivist, V&A Museum and Chairman for the Standing Conference on Archives and Museums
Christos Tsirogiannis, Archaeologist and Art Crime Researcher, University of Cambridge, former member of the Hellenic Ministry of Justice
Noah Charney, Founder of ARCA, Author, Professor of Art History specialising in Art Crime
This symposium will be held in the Hochhauser Auditorium in the Sackler Centre at the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London SW7, on Thursday November 7, 2013. Sessions begin promptly at 10:00 am and 15:00 pm, with a two hour break for lunch. Attendance is free and open to the public.
To register for this event please email the symposium coordinators at london.conference@artcrimeresearch.org on or before November 1, 2013. Please indicate the names and email addresses of the attendees and if attendance will be for one or both sessions of the programming. Space is limited and attendees are respectfully encouraged to reserve early.

October 11, 2013

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Presents The Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Presents "The Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage" on Friday, November 1, 2013 at Fordham Law School in New York City. Map and directions: http://law.fordham.edu/about-fordham/25926.htm.

The program will begin with Diane Penneys Edelman, Villanova University School of Law; President, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation; Leila Amineddoleh, Adjunct Professor of Law, Fordham Law School; Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation; and Irina Tarsis, Chair, American Society of International Law Cultural Heritage & the Arts Interest Group.

The first panel, Monuments Officers, the Roberts Commission, Rose Valland, Ardelia Hall, the protection of monuments in Europe and Asia during WWII, law governing the “Spoils of War Doctrine,” legacy issues for museums and the art market, will be chaired by Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel, Andrews Kurth, LLP; Assistant Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, Museum Studies. Speakers: Elizabeth Hudson, Chief Researcher, Monuments Men Foundation; Marc Masurovsky, Independent Historian and Author and formerly with U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; Anne Rothfeld, Independent Historian, Ph.D. Candidate, American University; and Victoria Reed, Curator for Provenance, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The second panel, Prevention efforts in problem areas since WWII: Evolution of U.S. law, policy and practice concerning looting prevention and restitution efforts in post-WWII conflicts, will be chaired by Lucille Roussin, Founder and Director, Holocaust Restitution and Claims Practicum, and Adjunct Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Speakers: Richard B. Jackson, Special Assistant to the Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters; Salam al-Kuntar, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology; James McAndrew, Forensic Specialist, Grunfeld, Desiderio, Lebowitz, Silverman & Klestadt.

Lunchtime Conversation with Lynn H. Nicholas, Independent Researcher and Author, The Rape of Europa: 12:15-1:30p.m. Interview by Thomas Kline.

The third panel, Present-day initiatives taken by the US armed forces, law enforcement, the art market and others to prevent and remedy looting and the trade of works looted during times of conflict, as well as law governing trade in looted objects, will be chaired by Chair: Elizabeth Varner, Executive Director, National Art Museum of Sport. Speakers: Corine Wegener, Preservation Specialist for Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution; Laurie W. Rush, Anthropologist and Cultural Resources Manager, United States Army; Thomas Mulhall, Supervisory Special Agent, Department of Homeland Security (ICE); Monica Dugot, Senior Vice President, International Director of Restitution, Christie’s.

The fourth panel, The use of the Internet, social media, television, news industry and film to raise awareness of looting, theft, and cultural heritage issues. A discussion about alternative channels used to reduce cultural heritage loss and increase restitution, will be chaired by Ms. Amineddoleh. Speakers: Darius Arya, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, American Institute for Culture; Jason Felch, Reporter, Los Angeles Times; Co-Author, Chasing Aphrodite; David D’Arcy, Correspondent, The Art Newspaper; Screenwriter/Producer, Portrait of Wally.

Afterword by Robert Edsel, Author and President, Monuments Men Foundation, WWII Monuments Men to the Present: What have we learned? What do we need to relearn? Introduction by Thomas R. Kline.

October 10, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - , No comments

The Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) and the Ciric Law Firm, PLLC Sponsor Art Law CLE Program: Due Diligence in Cultural Heritage Litigation: Is There a Minimum Threshold?


Friday, October 11, 2013
8:00 AM to 1:00 PM (PDT)
Leo Baeck Institute | 212-294-8301
15 W 16th St
New York, NY 10011


This course will discuss the current legal standard defining due diligence, its limitations, and the varied approaches attempting to address due diligence requirements in the market, and provide a suggested framework and associated checklist to satisfy due diligence requirements in provenance research for cultural objects.  The courts have the means to enforce proper ownership rights of current possessors, good faith purchasers, and rightful owners, yet the market is encountering significant challenges in implementing due diligence standards to comply with legal requirements and stabilize the trade.

SCHEDULE
8:00am-8:45am: Welcome/Sign-in
8:45am-8:50am: Introduction
8:50am-10:05am: Have You Done Your Due Diligence?
10:05 am-10:15am: Break
10:15am-11:30am: Is Context Everything?
11:30am-11:40am Break
11:40pm-12:55pm: Do Your Research-Your Provenance Research
12:55 pm-1:00pm: Conclusion

SPEAKERS
Sharon Levin-Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the Criminal Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
Charles A. Goldstein-Herrick, Feinstein LLP, Member, Art Law Group
Lawrence M. Kaye-Herrick, Feinstein LLP, Co-Chair, Art Law Group
Monica Dugot- Christie’s, Senior VP, International Director of Restitution
Lucian Simmons-Sotheby’s, Senior VP of Sotheby’s in New York, Head of Sotheby’s Worldwide Restitution Team
Victoria S. Reed-Museum of Fine Arts, Monica S. Sadler Curator for Provenance
Lucille A. Roussin- Ph.D-Law Office of Lucille A. Roussin; Adjunct Professor at Cardozo School of Law
Irina Tarsis-Center for Art Law, Attorney at Law, Consultant, Program Coordinator
Ori Z. Soltes-Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Co-Founder
Marc J. Masurovsky-Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Co-Founder
Pierre Ciric-The Ciric Law Firm, PLLC

CLE CREDITS (Accreditation Pending)
4.0 (1.5 - Ethics & Professionalism; 1.0 - Skills; 1.5 - Areas of Professional Practice) 

October 9, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013 - , 3 comments

What Happened When Myles J. Connor, Jr. Spoke at the Milton Art Center in MA

Myles J. Connor, Jr. & columnist Suzette Martinez Standring
By Suzette Martinez Standring (suzmar@comcast.net)

The flak and hubbub have subsided about the rare public talk on Sept. 26 in Milton (MA) by Myles J. Connor, Jr., one of the most notorious art thieves in heist history. This is what happened. For starters, Myles had assumed it was going to be a small Milton High School alumni gathering, not a general public event. Wrong! That’s a great big oopsie one hour before show time.

I met him and his longtime friend and music producer Al Dotoli, for the first time over dinner, and the misunderstanding surprised me, too. Myles sat quietly, picking at his seafood salad, mulling over the sudden change of scenery. At age 69, he had come prepared to chat with alumni pals about high school memories and now he discovered he would be in front of strangers talking about art heists and his criminal past at the Milton Art Center.

Myles J. Connor, Jr. had been convicted and served over twenty years at various times for museum and estate art heists throughout New England. Although convictions for murder and rape were disproved and overturned, many still believe his guilt. He’s a bank robber to boot, thus, the angry protests and criticisms leading up to his talk.

He had qualms, but what about mine? I couldn’t walk into a room full of media and attendees without him!

How many past accomplices - like me now at the restaurant - have ever sworn to Myles, “It wasn’t me! I swear it wasn’t a set up!”  Something went wrong along the chain of contacts in reaching him. How a public talk about art crime got mixed up with the Milton High School Class of 1961 is beyond me.

Myles was genial and charming, keenly interested in my motivation, which was simple. “If every expert and book about art heists talks about you, then can’t we hear you talk about it directly?”  I blabbed away with nothing to hide, and I held my breath. OK, he’d go and would not censor any questions, no matter what people asked, but if folks got hostile, he would leave early.  Done!

Later at the Milton Art Center Myles spoke matter-of-factly about his life and his past crimes. For example, in his youth his first-ever heist at the Forbes House Museum was fueled by payback for a false theft accusation of antique firearms leveled at his dad, an honorable and decorated police officer.

Myles brought up murder. He talked about evidence not produced at his first trial that led to a 17-minute jury verdict of acquittal at his second trial.  He speculated that the paintings stolen about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are in Saudi Arabia. He was in prison at the time of the heist, and had nothing to do with the theft - but did admit to casing the Gardner Museum around 1988.

How did he steal priceless art from various museums? He shared a number of ways that worked for him.  If you didn’t go, then you missed the how-to, and I’m not offering a primer here.

Many in the audience who grew up with him, or knew his family enjoyed comical escapades from his childhood.

He answered several written questions from the audience with candor.

If you say your father was a kindly police officer and growing up in Milton was great, then what caused you to turn to a life of crime?

Myles said, “I know exactly why that happened.”

As a very young man, he served time in Walpole among tough, dangerous, and older inmates, and described prison as a “terrible place,” where one needs friendships to survive. Myles admitted his loyalty didn’t allow him to say no to such friends, even if the request involved crimes, and his criminal career grew from there.

I myself had a burning question: If you say you love art and you have a visceral reaction, like many others, to seeing great art, then how do you reconcile stealing that kind of beauty from the public and taking away their chances to experience it?

Myles said he rarely took exhibited museum art, but rather stole from storage areas where paintings often remain for years unseen. He often used heisted art as a bargaining chip for getting decreased prison time for others or for himself. (However, his autobiography written with Jenny Siler, The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Art Thief indicates negotiation was not always the sole purpose.)

Did he ever work with Whitey Bulger?

Myles said he knew but never worked with Bulger having been tipped off early on that the guys was nuts.

What is he doing now and does he have regrets?

“Only a fool has no regrets,” Myles said and seemed wistful when he shared how he thought he would become a doctor, however, his choices led him in a different direction. At age 69, he has medical problems.  His once famous singing career is over, and he lives largely alone in Blackstone with a score of pets – emus, dogs, cats, chickens, and a very old snake.

Obviously, Myles himself is responsible for the censure, fear, or arm’s length wariness of others throughout his life. Yet he still appeared at the Milton Art Center expecting the worst. Frankly, I did, too, so the evening held two surprises. Initially, he expected to have to hightail it out of there just ahead of clubs and torches after thirty minutes.  He stayed for two hours. The audience was astonished and appreciated his candor, and Myles was moved by the unexpected kindness in the way people spoke to him.

He never left early that night, because no one would let him.

What would you have asked him?

Email Suzette Martinez Standring: suzmar@comcast.net 
She is syndicated with GateHouse Media, and this column appeared on her award winning national blog:  http://www.patriotledger.com/community/blogs/spiritual-cafe
Check out more photos from Myles Connor’s talk on Suzette Martinez Standring's FB page.


The Milton Art Center (www.miltonartcenter.org) is a community hub for creative arts and classes, art exhibits, and enrichment programs for adults and children. They are located at 334 Edge Hill Road, Milton, MA  02186.

October 3, 2013

Thursday, October 03, 2013 - ,, No comments

After decade-long fight, Cyprus recovers icons of apostles from the Antiphonitis church in Kalograia


by Christiana O'Connell-Schizas

Last week, on September 24th, four icons stolen almost four decades ago returned to the small yet culturally rich island of Cyprus. In March 1975, these 16th century icons of the Apostles Peter, Paul, John and Mark were removed from the wooden iconostasis of the Antiphonitis church in Kalograia, Cyprus. They were illicitly exported, found their way into an Armenian art dealer's hands, and were purchased by the Lans, an elderly Dutch couple. In 1995, the Lans decided to sell the icons through Christie's auction house, who became alarmed at the icon's suspicious origin and provenance and  suggested that the couple refer the icons to the Cypriot Authorities.

Aside from their estimated value of €200,000[1], the repatriation of these icons is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, frescoes from the same church were returned to Cyprus in 1997 with the help of Michel van Rijn, an art dealer turned informant. He had purchased them off Aydin Dikman, the most renowned looter of Cypriot artifacts. Michel's continuing cooperation with Cypriot authorities led to what is estimated to be the largest haul of stolen art since World War II - the raid on Aydin Dikman's three Munich apartments. Police estimated all the antiquities found were worth more than $60 million.[2] Cypriot frescoes, mosaics, and icons, ancient coins, pre-Columbian pottery, stolen paintings, and an unauthenticated Picasso were found. Four thousand more pieces were discovered hidden in walls and floorboards.

Cyprus filed a civil suit against Dikman in 1997, but it was not until 2010 that the German courts ruled in favor of Cyprus. Dikman appealed, but the Higher Regional court of Munich upheld the decision for the repatriation of the items. The 173 artifacts were formally returned to the Republic of Cyprus in a special ceremony held in Munich in July this year (while many more are still being held by Bavarian police due to lack of evidence that they come from Northern Cyprus). Their arrival at the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia is eagerly anticipated later this month. Ironically, amongst these 173 artifacts are more frescoes from the church of Antiphonitis. This illustrates how the cultural property that was once looted from this single church is slowly getting pieced back together.

The return of these four icons is also important because the Church of Cyprus took the Lans to court, and lost! Autocefale Grieks-Orthodoxe Kerk te Cyprus v. W.O.A. Lans was the first ever case to invoke the Protocol to the Hague Convention 1954 (Section I-3 of the Protocol). The Dutch Government and district court refused restitution as this convention had not yet been implemented into Dutch law. They also found the Lans to be bona fide purchasers and therefore the rightful owners. The Church and the Republic continued fighting for the icons, but in 2002, the Court of Appeal found that the claim was time-barred under statutes of limitations. In 2007, the Netherlands passed the Cultural Property Originating From Occupied Territory Act which prohibits the import and ownership of cultural property originating from a territory that was occupied in an armed conflict after 1959. This reopened the door for Cyprus' claim as the North of Cyprus has been occupied by Turkish forces since 1974. (Although the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is in so called ‘power’ in the North, it is not a recognized entity and the area is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus and its jurisdiction.) So in 2011, the Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the Dutch formally requesting the return of the four icons. Some may argue that it is ridiculous for a country to be denied their cultural property for so long due to the bureaucracy of a country's national laws.

The rest as they say is history but it is noteworthy to mention that none of the above might have been possible without Tassoula Hadjitofi's ongoing efforts. She was the Honorary Council to the Netherlands when Christie's alerted the Lans in 1995 and the person van Rijn approached in 1997 which led to the Munich case. The icons will remain in the Byzantine Museum until the Republic of Cyprus regains access and administration of the occupied territories when the icons will be taken back to their rightful home, the church of Antiphonitis.

Bibliography
Autocefale Grieks-Orthodoxe Kerk te Cyprus v. W.O.A. Lans

"Επαναπατρίστηκαν 4 εικόνες από τη Μονή του Χριστού Αντιφωνητή."Επαναπατρίστηκαν 4 εικόνες από τη Μονή του Χριστού Αντιφωνητή. O Φιλελεύθερος, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <http://www.philenews.com/el-gr/politismos-kypros/162/163434/epanapatristikan-4-eikones-apo-ti-moni-tou-christou-antifoniti>.

"Επαναπατρίζονται στην Κύπρο σημαντικά εκκλησιαστικά έργα τέχνης." H KAΘHMEPINH. N.p., 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. <http://www.kathimerini.gr/4dcgi/_w_articles_kathremote_1_24/09/2013_519959>.

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[1] Hickley, Catherine. "Looted Icons Seized by Dutch Government Return to Cyprus."Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 17 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Sept. 2013.
<http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-17/looted-icons-seized-by-dutch-government-return-to-cyprus.html>

[2] Rose, Mark. "Special Report: Church Treasures of Cyprus - Archaeology Magazine Archive." Archeology. Archaeological Institute of America, 51(4). July-Aug. 1998. Web. 29 Sept. 2013
<http://archive.archaeology.org/9807/etc/special.html>