December 21, 2016

Repatriation: Museo Civico di Castelvecchio - 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015


Following the convictions of many of the accomplices arrested in connection with the theft of 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015 from the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio, the paintings are finally cleared to return to Italy today.

In a ceremony held earlier this morning, broadcast live from the Khanenko museum in Kiev at 11:45 GMT+1, the stolen works of art were formally released in the presence of the President of the Ukraine, Petro Porošenko to the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Dario Franceschini and an Italian delegation made up of:

Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona
Gen. Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale
Dr. Gennaro Ottaviano, the Deputy Prosecutor of Verona
Dr. Vincenzo Nicolì, Director of the Central Operational Service (SCO)
Roberto Benedetto, the head of the mobile police squad of Verona,
Antonio Coppola, Commander of the Operational department of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale
Dr. Ettore Napione, Curator of the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio


This afternoon, at 17.30 GMT+1 the 17 works of art will be presented back to the Verona public at the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio where a ceremony will be held welcoming the paintings back home.

All 17 artworks were recovered May 6, 2016 in the Ukrainian region of Odessa during a raid carried out by the special Ukrainian police forces.  The museum pieces were found wrapped in plastic bags and hidden in a willow forest, located on Turunciuk island, a parcel of land that sits on the left branch of the Dniester River that flows along the border between Moldova and the Ukraine.

Ricciardi Pasquale Silvestri, the point of connection between the Italians and the Moldavians criminals involved in the theft, was sentenced December 5, 2015 to 10 years and eight months for his role in the armed robbery and kidnapping.  His brother, Francesco Silvestri, the contracted security guard at the Castelvecchio museum on the night of the robbery, also involved in the plot, was sentenced to 10 years for his key role in illustrating the vulnerabilities of the museum. 

Pasquale's Moldovan girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk received a six-year prison sentence, for her role and translator between the members of the transnational organized crime group.  Another co-conspirator, also from Moldova, Victor Potinga, was sentenced to five years. Potinga transported the stolen artworks in his van from Verona to Brescia the evening of the theft. 

Two other defendants, Anatolie Burlac Jr. and Denis Damaschin each entered guilty pleas earlier in the year for their own roles in the crime.  Damaschin was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months incarceration for receiving stolen goods, having stored the paintings in his home in Brescia, in Northern Italy before they were disguised in television boxes and transported to the Ukraine. 

Arrested in Romania and extradited to Italy after some initial confusion over his identity, his father is Anatolie Burlac Sr., who is also wanted for questioning in the crime, Burlac Jr. received the lightest of the sentences handed down in connection with the crime, only one year eight months.   This was most likely due to the critical statements he made while being interrogated by the Italian authorities, which contributed to the convictions handed down in the case. Other accomplices, arrested last March, are still to be tried in Moldova.


Testimony presented in the case against the six in Italy indicated that the theft was originally planned for the 18th of November. It was then postponed to the next evening as the accomplices arrived at the museum on the 18th only to find additional cars in the parking lot indicating their was too much activity in the area to proceed.

According to defence attorneys, the original plan was to rob the museum of one painting only, a theft to order, with only the guard-accomplice present who was to pretend to authorities that he had been subdued during the robbery. Unfortunately, the accomplices arrived prematurely while the museum's cashier was still in the building. By tying her up and gagging her along with their accomplice-cohort, the thieves transformed the museum theft from a simple robbery to armed robbery and kidnapping. 

Ukrainian law enforcement believes that the works were shipped out of Moldova and into the Ukraine after arrests were made in the case in mid-March.  If the shift was made to hide the evidence or to send the works onwards to buyers in either somewhere in the Ukraine or Russia has never been established with certainty, however Italian police and Ukrainian media reports have suggested that the final buyer was rumored to be a wealthy collector in Chechnya.  According to the Russian news agency TASS, the paintings were sent from Moldova to the Ukraine via the postal service and at the time of their discovery, were awaiting transfer back to Moldova.

Museum Theft Identification: Louvre Museum "Le Campement de bohémiens" by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860)
Le Campement de bohémiens, Oil on wood - 18 x 24.8 cm 
In a developing story, first reported by France's La Tribune de l'Art, a stolen painting, Le Campement de bohémiens, believed to be by the artist Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, has been identified in an online auction catalog at the Paris auction house Hôtel Drouot

The artwork was first spotted by Xavier de Palmaert, who in turn notified Jacques Ranc, an art historian working on Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps catalog raisonné.  The painting on auction is believed to be one of 17 by the artist bequeathed to the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1902 from the collection of Thomy Thiéry.  Not on display at the time of its disappearance, the artwork was identified as being missing during an inventory check on January 15, 1977 and is believed to have been taken from the museum sometime between 1973 and 1977. 


2833 — Le Campement de bohémiens. 

Devant un mur dégradé, des bohémiens, un homme, une femme et uhc fillette, ont allumé du feu et font bouillir la marmite. La femme, au premier plan, misérablement vêtue, est assise sur une pierre ; l'homme, assis à terre, à gauche, est appuyé contre le mur du fond, tandis que la fillette debout, à droite, la pincette à la main, surveille le feu qu'abrite une vieille porte de bois. Quelques récipients grossiers sont à terre. 

Signé sur une pierre, à droite : Decamps. 

Bois. Haut., 18 cent.; larg., 24 cent. 

Collections J. Fan, Véron, dit Taillis, H. Didier. 
M"'"' la baronne Nath. de Rothschild et Denain. 
Catalogue Moreau, p. 193. 

(Translated in English)
2833 - The Gypsy Camp. 

In front of a degraded wall, gypsies, a man, a woman and a young girl, lit the fire and boil the pot. The woman in the foreground, miserably clad, sat on a stone; man, sitting down, left, is leaning against the back wall, while the girl standing, right, tongs in hand, watching the fire beside an old wooden door. Some containers thrown crudely down. 

Signed [by the artist] on a stone, on the right: Decamps. 

Wood. 18 cent .; 24 cent.

Collections J. Fan, Véron, dit Taillis, H. Didier. 
Miss Baroness Nath. Of Rothschild and Denain.
Catalog Moreau, p. 193.



Considered by some to be the founding father of Orientalism, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps was one of the first French painters of the 19th century to turn from Neoclassicism to Romanticism.  Due to his influence, Decamps is likely one of the most copied and forged artists of the nineteenth century.

For Mr. Ranc to consider this work as potentially authentic is a big statement, especially as he has been vocal about the number of fakes or copies or "in the manner ofs" Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps artworks that are part of museum collections.

Hôtel Drouot has long been one of France’s most venerable and prestigious auction houses.  In March 2016 a scandal broke when 40 of the firm's self-governing and self-employed corps of porters, known as the ‘red collars’ indicted for pilfering' thousands of items. 

For the moment, the painting has been removed from sale pending the official demand for restitution by the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication in France. 

Further details of the painting's history and provenance found on the Ministry's cultural patrimony portal: 

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps
Photo Credit: Eugene Disdéri
Domaine: peinture
Dénomination: tableau
Titre: Le Campement de Bohemiens
Auteur/exécutant: DECAMPS Alexandre Gabriel
Précision auteur/exécutant: Paris, 1803 ; Fontainebleau, 1860
Ecole: France
Période création/exécution: 2e quart 19e siècle
Matériaux/techniques: peinture à l'huile ; bois
Dimensions: H. 18, l. 24.8
Inscriptions: signé
Précision inscriptions: Decamps (S.mi-h.d.)
Sujet représenté: scène (nomade, préparation des aliments)
Lieu de conservation: Paris ; musée du Louvre département des Peintures
Musée de France: au sens de la loi n°2002-5 du 4 janvier 2002
Statut juridique: propriété de l'Etat ; legs ; musée du Louvre département des Peintures
Date acquisition: 1902
Anciennes appartenances: Thomy Thiéry
Numéro d'inventaire: RF 1386
Bibliographie: Catalogue des peintures du Louvre, I, Ecole Française, Paris, 1A972, p. 121 ; Catalogue sommaire illustré des peintures du musée du Louvre et du musée d'Orsay, Ecole française, III, Paris, 1986, p. 190



December 20, 2016

Recovered: 9 Illicit antiquities from Puglia, Italy

Nine archaeological objects from clandestine excavations conducted in northern Puglia have been recovered as the result of two separate investigations led by Italy’s art crime police, the Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and are now on temporary display at the Museo dei Vescovi di Canosa in Puglia.

Among the objects recovered are two Apulian polychrome craters dating back to IV-III century. BCE, which had been illegally exported to the United States and placed up for auction. 


Among the other finds are two Kylix wine goblets, a bell crater with floral and geometric decorations and a Roman-era aphora found during a routine check in an antique store. At the end of the exhibition the objects will be turned over to the archaeological superintendency responsible for the areas of Barletta, Andria, Trani and Foggia.

The artifacts recovered are pictured below. 





December 19, 2016

Who saves the culture of Mesopotamia and the Levant - Part I

In the first of a series, ARCA will be highlighting some of the people on a mission to protect and/or seize back the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, from those who seek to profit from or destroy it.

Since the start of the conflict, ARCA has received frequent queries from people concerned about the theft and destruction of sites throughout the Levant.  Often we are asked if anything is doing about the situation. While the form of the question often is posed in the singular format of what is anyone doing specifically about ISIS, ARCA would like to underscore that the problem of looting and destruction is not restricted to one identifiable nemesis operating in conflict zones, although Da'esh has been particularly adept at making a public display of its iconoclasm. 

Today's blog post highlights one forward-thinker in Iraq, who has show what can be done, if people think about a problem in advance of when they are actually faced with one. 

On July 20, 2014 jihadist troops of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control of the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah, a monastery located near the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh, 30 km southwest of Mosul, in the Nineveh Plain of Iraq.  The site dates back to the 4th century CE.   

Occupying the site, the militants ejected the Syriac Orthodox monks with nothing more than the clothing on their backs, refusing to allow them to take any of the church's sacred objects.  In fear for their lives, the monastery's guardians were forcefully ejected and walked some ten kilometers before intersecting with Kurdish Peshmerga forces.  

On Thursday, March 19, 2015 ISIS fighters released footage which showed that they had rigged the tombs of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah with explosives, dramatically detonating the monastery's revered historic shrines.    

Image Credit: Alsumaria News 
While the church at the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah itself was not earmarked for detonation along with its shrines, the historic site would did suffer extensive vandalism.  During its occupation, religious wall decorations were drilled out, and/or defaced. Inscriptions written in Syriac were scraped off the walls, crosses were taken down, and statues knocked to the ground and smashed. Throughout the monastery extensive graffiti was scrawled on practically every available surface.

The statue of Mar Behnam on horseback, dating from the 16th century,
has been completely destroyed
Sadly, as the desecration took place after the dramatic footage of the damages to the Mosul Museum and just before the demolition of Nimrud, the world's press gave the monastery's fate little in the way of press coverage.  Those that research iconoclasm tried to take limited comfort in the knowledge that some of the monastery's important manuscripts, dating back centuries, had been digitized. 

Dr. Lamia al-Gailanim, an associate fellow at the London-based Institute of Archaeology, reminded list-serv members of the Iraqi crisis group that Mosul had twelve Medieval shines with muqarnas domes.  In total, the exquisite remains accounted for half of what the country of Iraq had in terms of this specific style of monumental vaulted architecture.  By 2015, as Da'esh gained more and more territory, all the Mosul-area domed shrines suffered attacks.

On Sunday, November 20, 2016 the Baghdad-backed Babylon Brigades in cooperation with the Iraqi army liberated the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah and the world got its first look at the damages inflicted. It is believed that the militants may have occupied the site as a base of operations and some news reports have said the site was utilized by Da'esh's morality police. Whatever the case, the group's trademark shows throughout the trashed the interior.

As the mixed military force secured the site and the zones surrounding the monastery, the first photos of the extent of the rampage were released on social media.  Little had been spared.  Even the grave marker for Monsignor Francis Djahola, who was a well known part of the monastery religious community until his recent death, had been desecrated.

Father Yousif Sakat
Then, on December 9, 2016, those affiliated with the monastery announced something joyfully unexpected. 

Thanks to the forward thinking of Father Yousif Sakat, over 400 books and manuscripts, some illustrated by hand and dating back 800 years, had been kept safe.  Miraculously, they had been hidden directly under the noses of the militants. 

As a custodian for the monastery’s Medieval collection, Father Sakat knew that if he abandoned the monastery and left the library collection behind, it would be vulnerable to destruction or potential looting.  Sakat watched as the situation grew increasingly tense and as the nearby cities succumbed to the rule of ISIS.  As the militants grew bolder, he noted that individuals had defaced the monastery’s exterior and on occasion, hurled stones at the building to intimidate its occupants. 

Anticipating that the jihadist would eventually take control of the monastery and knowing that they might set fire to the collection, Sakat started to think about what he could do to protect the collection himself.

The fast-thinking priest moved the monastery's most important books and manuscripts into metal drums. He then placed these containers in a discreet area where he hoped they would avoid suspicion.  He then sealed the hiding place shut with a wall of concealing cement.

In December 2016, once the father felt sure the site was no longer at risk of possible recapture, he and a team of workers returned to recover the books from their hidden storage chamber.

Publishing the extraction on Facebook Amjad Hinawi uploaded 49 images of the remarkable books as the room was breached and reopened and the collection retrieved. ARCA has posted a selection of these photos here with the group's permission.


Just as the 72-year-old librarian from Mali successfully saved his own country's collection by stuffing them into millet bags and smuggling them out of harm's way, Father Sakat's ingenuity shows that a lot can be done, even when practically everything else has been lost. 

Having said that, there is a palpable urgency to better preserve these rich and varied historic collections, especially those at smaller religious sites, with little means and funding.  It is no longer cost prohibitive to digitize and catalog literary historic records and vulnerable sites such as these need to consider what potential risks their might be, now or in the future to their original collections.

Consideration before a threat occurs.

Just asking the simple question what are we doing about this (now), followed by what can be done better (before a threat or crisis occurs) in a first step in emergency preparedness.   Even in times of economic hardship or political unrest cultural heritage institutions with limited staff can make a world of difference to an otherwise grim outcome.

Luckily, the collection from the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah was not stored inside the shrines that Da'esh detonated.

Luckily, many of its manuscripts were already digitized.

Luckily, Father Yousif Sakat had the foresight, time and the means to purchase and use the supplies needed to hide his monastery's collection.

But what if any one of those things hadn't happened?

For now, the library of the Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah are being stored elsewhere for safekeeping.


December 15, 2016

Meeting ARCA's Alumni: Samer Abdel Ghafour - Class of 2015

Samer Abdel Ghafour is a Syrian cultural heritage specialist and founder of ArchaeologyIN, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of archaeological preservation world-wide. His professional experience includes working both as a museum curator and a field director and chief conservator for archaeological missions in Syria. 

What were your motivations behind enrolling in the ARCA post-graduate program? What did you value about the program as a whole? 

Each course offered by the ARCA program expands academic knowledge by tackling topics from different angles, while the experience as a whole opens gates and provides networking opportunities. Through the program, I was introduced to a community of specialists whose work is interrelated with ARCA, its mission, program, academic publications, and journal of art crime. The specialized courses offered develop a platform for engagement that addresses ten different elements, ten domains, ten fields. The specificity of the program supports research and engagement with varied topics that otherwise receive little academic attention and range from sites management, to the conservation of mosaics. 

How does your academic and professional background correlate with the work you did in the program?

In 2011, Syria experienced a whirlwind of lawlessness on all levels, including irreversible damage to cultural heritage. Following the looting of open archaeological sites, the illicit trafficking of looted objects, and the destruction of historic monuments and museums, both Syrian and international experts organized several initiatives to mitigate damage to the best of our ability. Improving academic knowledge through participation in this and other programs is an essential part of our commitment to save and protect.

In Dick Ellis’ course on Policing, I studied art in the black market and in organized crime, researching methods of tracing illicit trafficking. In Art and Heritage Law with Duncan Chappell, we became better equipped to apply both national and international law, and following Marc Balcells’ Criminology course, I now feel more comfortable addressing organised crime. As crime itself is getting stronger, it is important that we too strengthen ourselves and our knowledge. Amidst the chaos in Syria, we are preparing for the aftermath, trying to maintain stability through networking, documenting damage, and collecting data for analysis.

Networking is a vital component in your current work, correct?

Yes, I use social media as a platform that provides information for the public, not just academics. In July 2011, I attended an international symposium in Berlin in which archaeologists digging in Syria wanted to know whether or not they could continue their work.  Relationships can be ruined by the current inability to excavate in Syria, but the loss of these connections can be avoided by communication through a free platform in which awareness is raised and accumulated knowledge is disseminated to whoever is interested.

Founding the ArchaeologyIN, the Archaeology Information Network has not only provided an opportunity to raise cultural heritage awareness, in Syria, but also in Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Turkey and Italy.   In the conflict-plagued countries it has also served to create a space for the collection of data about current damage and has highlighted the good work of others who are invested in cultural heritage protection. I also maintain a Twitter account for those that want to follow me at: @SamAbdelGhafour

Some of the principle pages of the Archaeologyin Network are:

Facebook: ArchaeologyinSyria  Twitter: @AinSyria
Facebook: ArchaeologyinIraq  Twitter: @AinIraq
Facebook: ArchaeologyinYemen  Twitter: @AinYemen1
Facebook: ArchaeologyinLibya  Twitter: @AinLibya
Facebook: ArchaeologyinTurkey  Twitter: @AinTurkey
Facebook: ArchaeologyinItaly  Twitter: @AinItaly

and our Mother page
Facebook: ArchaeologyIN  Twitter: @Archaeology_IN

What has been your favorite thing about the program? About living in Amelia?

I valued the conference itself being held in the middle of the program- it was like a shot of espresso in the middle of the day. The experience solidified and contextualized a lot of the work we had been doing in the classroom, and provided ARCA students with the opportunity to take the next steps in our respective fields, to network, and to build solid connections and foundations.

As far as Amelia goes, hosting the program in Amelia is like combining American academia with an Italian spirit. If our work here is the body and Amelia contributes to the spirit, the two form a living entity, imbued with a depth of historical value from the surrounding environment. The walls of Amelia do not separate it from the natural landscape and cultural heritage surrounding it. These walls, which historically served as means of defence for Amelia, now play the role of  connecting the program to the city and its vivid history. It is a striking example and experience of intercultural engagement. 

Since completing the ARCA summer coursework, what have you been doing?

I have been solidifying the research for my PhD on "Ideologies of the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in the Ancient and Modern Near East" at La Sapienza - Università di Roma with the Facoltà: Dipartimento di Scienze dell'antichità.

I also served as Rapporteur for the Capacity Building Activities and Future Needs workgroup at the UNESCO 2016 Emergency Safeguarding of Syria’s Cultural Heritage meetings in 2016.

Thirdly I have been working with IIMAS – The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies as an Associate Director for Institutional Communications.

ARCA is accepting applications for the 2017 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.  For more information on how to apply, please click here.

For information on who is teaching this year, please see our earlier blog post. 

December 13, 2016

Gorny & Mosch Withdraws Suspect Antiquities from Auction

Gorny & Mosch has withdrawn the four suspect antiquities identified by Greek forensic archaeologist and ARCA lecturer Christos Tsirogiannis on November 30, 2016. The objects, pictured below, had each been set for auction on tomorrow, December 14, 2016 via the auctioneer's office in Munich (München).


The objects had been traced to the confiscated Robin Symes and Gianfranco Becchina archives, antiquities dealers long accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe.

The withdrawal comes After the information on the identifications was forwarded via INTERPOL to the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Germany's federal criminal police, which in turn, forwarded the information on to the Bavarian prosecution office for further analysis. 

For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of this objects' looted past, please see ARCA's earlier report in English here or in German here

December 11, 2016

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktion, München, Deutschland

ARCA kindly thanks archaeologist and academic translator Folkert Tiarks of Toptransarchaeo for his assistance in translating this blog report from English into German for ARCA's German-speaking readership.

Am 29. November 2016 wurde ARCA durch Christos Tsirogiannis darüber informiert dass er vier antike, potentiell illegale Objekte identifiziert habe, die  am 14. Dezember 2016 bei Gorny & Mosch in München versteigert werden sollen.  Jedes dieser vier Objekte  lässt sich auf Fotos aus den beschlagnahmten Archiven von Gianfranco  Becchina und Robin Symes nachweisen.

Los 19 Etruskische Bronzestatue eines Jünglings, Mitte 5. Jahrhundert vor Christus

Abbildung 1 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 19 

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:  
"Ex Sammlung R.G., Deutschland. Bei Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, 43. Ex Sotheby´s Catalogue of Antiquities 13. Juli 1981, 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, Herausgeber der Zeitschrift Minerva und Eigentümer der Royal Athena Galleries in New York City, ist ein Name, der in der Vergangenheit als Käufer oder Verkäufer von Antiken umstrittener Herkunft  zur Sprache gekommen ist. Für weitere Informationen zu einigen der  in letzter Zeit von der Gallery erworbenen Objekte klicken sie bitte hierhier, hier und hier


Abbildung 2 - Symes Archiv Foto
Kürzlich erkannte Tsirogiannis Los 19 (Bild 1) im Symes Archiv (Bild 2), während dieses Loss noch  im Oktober 2010, zusammen mit einigen anderen Antiken, deren Bilder in den Archiven von Medici und Becchina auftauchten  von der Royal Athena Galleries angeboten wurde. Im Januar 2011 wurden diese Identifizierungen von Professor David Gill in seinem Blog "Looting Matters" vorgestellt und in der italienischen Presse durch den auf Kunst und Korruption spezialisierten Journalisten Fabio Isman im "Giornalle dell’arte" publik gemacht. Zusammen mit jeder dieser Bekanntmachungen wurde ein aus dem Symes Archiv stammendes Foto der etruskischen Bronzefigur veröffentlicht.

Die Tatsache, dass dieses Objekt jetzt, fünf Jahre nach der ersten Identifizierung, wieder zum Verkauf angeboten wird, bedeutet entweder dass die italienischen Behörden bei diesem einzelnen Objekt nicht tätig wurden oder dass der damalige Besitzer der Antike ausreichende Beweise vorlegen konnte die eine Einstufung als illegal gehandelte Antike verhinderten. Diese Information (sofern es sie gibt) wurde durch das Auktionshaus nicht in die Sammlungs-geschichte aufgenommen.

Los 87 Eine apulische rotfigurige Situla des Lykurgos-Malers. 360-350 v. Chr.

Abbildung 3 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 87

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

"Aus der James Stirt Collection, Vevey in der Schweiz, erworben 1997 bei Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich."

Abbildung 4 Gegenteil von Los 87 (links)
 Becchina Archivfoto einer Situla (rechts)
Das von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellte Foto aus dem Archiv Symes zeigt die Vase mit schweren Ablagerungen von Erde und Salz. Aus einer dem Archivfoto beigefügten hand-schriftlichen Notiz geht hervor, dass die Bilder am 18. März 1988 von Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt wurden.

Montichelli ist ein verurteilter Antikenhändler aus Tarent der über viele Jahre eine Partnerschaft mit Gianfranco Becchina unterhielt. Als Montichellis seriöser Beruf wird Grundschullehrer im Ruhestand erwähnt, dennoch scheint er aus den unrechtmäßigen Einnahmen mit illegal gehandelter Kunst genug l Geld verdient zu haben, dass er in einigen von Italiens exklusiveren Gegenden von Florenz und Rom lukrative Immobilien kaufen konnte. Diese wurden später durch die italienischen Behörden beschlagnahmt.

Es ist bemerkenswert, dass in der Sammlungsgeschichte dieses Lots der Abschnitt über Becchina vor der im Verkaufskatalog von Gorny & Mosch erwähnten Herkunft aus einem Auktionshaus datiert. Hat Vollmöller, als sie das Objekt in Kommission nahm, die Kaufgeschichte, von wem die Situla erworben wurde, weggelassen oder haben Gorny & Mosch sie absichtlich ausgelassen?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Abbildung 4 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 88
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

Ex Galerie Palladion, Basel; ex Privatsammlung von Frau Borowzova, Binnigen in der Schweiz, erworben 1976 von Elie Borowski, Basel.

Abbildung 6 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses Kraters
Palladion Antike Kunst (man beachte den leicht korrigierten Namen der Galerie) wurde von Gianfranco Becchina aus Basel, Schweiz, geleitet obwohl als offizielle Besitzerin der Schweizer Galerie Ursula “Rosie“ Juraschek, Becchinas Ehefrau geführt wurde.

Tsirogiannis stellte ein aus dem Becchina Archiv stammendes, auf den 4. April 1989 datiertes Foto dieses Kraters (Abb.6 ) zur Verfügung. Wieder sehen wir ein mit Erd-und Salzablagerungen bedecktes Objekt mit einigen Fehlstellen. Man beachte dass die Datierung des  unrestaurierten Objektes in das Jahr 1989 nicht mit dem Datum übereinstimmt, an dem das Objekt in die Sammlung Elie Borowski aufgenommen wurde.

Elie Borowski, dessen umfangreiche Sammlung von Gegenstanden aus dem Mittleren Osten später den Großteil des Bible Land Museums bildete, starb im Jahr 2003. Vertraut mit den Schattenseiten des Antikenhandels, teilte die ehemalige Kurator der Antiken-Abteilung des Getty Museums, Marion True, den italienischen Behörden mit, dass auch Borowski, ein in Basel/Schweiz, ansässiger Antiken-händler, ein Kunde Gianfranco Becchinas sei.

Interessanterweise unternahm Borowski eine diskrete Reise nach Gubbio um sich dort die erst kurz zuvor aus dem Meer geborgene Bronze anzusehen, bevor diese ihren endgültigen Weg nach Malibu antrat. Aber Borowskis Eintauchen in eine mögliche Betrügerei war hier noch nicht zu Ende. Sein Name erscheint in einem inzwischen zu Berühmtheit gelangtem Organigramm von Händlern, einem handgeschriebenen Schaubild des illegalen Handels, das von den italienischen Behörden im wohnung von Danilo Zicchi beschlagnahmt wurde. Sein Name wurde auch in Verbindung gebracht mit Raubantiken aus der Türkei.

Los 127 Gedrungenes Alabastron der Gnathia-Ware mit dem Bildnis einer geflügelten Frau mit Sakkos. Dem Maler der weißen Hauben zugeschrieben. Apulien, 320-310 v. Chr.


Abbildung 7 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 127 
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:

Ex Christie´s London, 15.04.2015, ex 113; aus der Privatsammlung von Hans Humbel, Schweiz, erworben bei der Galerie Arete, Zürich in den frühen 1990er Jahren.

Abbildung 8 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses alabastron
Zusammen mit anderen  im Hintergrund sichtbaren Antiken, ist dieses Objekt auch auf einem von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellten Foto aus dem Becchina Archiv zu sehen. Das Foto datiert vom 24. September 1988 und wurde ebenfalls vom verurteilten Händler Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt.

Wie bei den vorausgegangenen Losen, datiert das Datum auf dem Foto vor die von Gorny & Mosch angegebene Sammlungsgeschichte. Dies lässt mich vermuten, dass die Sammlungsgeschichten aller vier Objekte in Details nur sehr spärlich angegeben wurden.

Wie Los 19 dieser Identifizierung, ist dieses das zweite Mal, dass dieses bestimmte Objekt vor einer bevorstehenden Auktion identifiziert wurde.

Aber die Spur wird noch interessanter.

Am 11. April 2015 veröffentlichte ARCA Tsirogiannis originale Identifizierung des Alabastrons mit folgender, von Christies zur Verfügung gestellter Provenien-zangabe.

"Durch den gegenwärtigen Eigentümer im Jahr 1998 vom Petit Musee, Montreal, erworben".

Das Objekt war ein Teil des aus zwei Vasen bestehenden Loses 113, das am 15. April 2016 in der Antiken-Auktion von Christie’s in London versteigert wurde. Ein von ARCA aufgenommener screenshot (Bild 9) der bei der urprünglichen Identifizierung vom April 2015 verwendet wurde, wird unten nochmals abgebildet.

Abbildung 9 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 11. April 2015 
Am 15. April 2015 wurde das Alabastron mit folgender Bekanntmachung im Auktionssaal von der Auktion zurückgezogen: "Das Los wurde zurückgezogen".

Wenn man heute Christie‘ s URL anklickt, die immer noch mit der letztjährigen Auktion verlinkt,  sieht man, dass das Foto gelöscht und durch ein anderes (Bild 10) ersetzt wurde, das nur die birnenförmige Flasche aus  Los 113 zeigt.

Abbildung 10 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016

Darüber hinaus wurde die Bekanntmachung der Rücknahme durch diese ersetzt (Abb. 11).

Abbildung 11 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016
Seltsamerweise führen Gorny & Mosch als Provenienz "Ex Christie’s London, 15.April 2015".

Hat Christie’s den Verkauf im April 2015 durchgesetzt anstatt ihn zurückzunehmen? Oderhaben Gorny & Mosch die unbeendete Auktion aufgeführt um ihrer eigenen Auflistung mehr Glaubwürdigkeit zu verleihen, jetzt, da sich der Besitzer des Stückes sich entschlossen hat, das Stück in Deutschland zu…Wer hat aus welchem Grund das Bild des Alabastrons gegen das der birnenförmigen Flasche ausgetauscht?

Und was ist mit Christie’s früherer Provenienzangabe, die das „Petit Musee, Motreal“ nannte, von dem der jetzige Besitzer das Stück im Jahr 1988 erwarb?  War diese Sammlungsgeschichte eine Fiktion, die später unbequem für den Besitzer und das aktuelle Auktionshaus wurde?

ARCA hofft, dass durch die kontinuierliche Bekanntgabe der Häufigkeit mit der illegale Antiken die Unregelmäßigkeiten in ihrer Provenienz  aufweisen wie dies bei  diesen Identifizierungen der Fall ist,  auf den legalen Kunstmarkt gelangen, Auktionshäuser und Sammler gezwungen werden ,die genauen und strengen Anforderungen bei der Angabe der Sammlungsgeschichte ihrer Objekt  einzuhalten, so dass neue Käufer nicht weiter Objekte waschen, um den Handel mit illegalen Antiken zu unterstützen.

Abschließend sei gesagt, dass sich Tsirogiannis, ein in Cambridge ansässiger forensischer Archäologe und Dozent beim Aufbaustudiengang der ARCA "Kriminalität gegen die Kunst und Kulturgüter-schutz", seit 2007 darum bemüht, Antiken illegaler Herkunft zu identifizieren, die sich in denjenigen Museen, Sammlungen, Galerien und Auktionshäusern befinden, die durch die beschlagnahmten Archive von Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, Christos Michaelides und Gianfranco Becchina zurückverfolgt werden können.

Tsirogiannis hat Interpol über seine Identifizierungen informiert verbunden mit der Bitte, sowohl die italienschen als auch die deutschen Behörden ebenfalls formell darüber zu informieren. Hoffen wir, dass Gorny & Mosch das Objekt zurückziehen und künftig ihrer Sorgfaltspflicht bei der Prüfung der Einlieferer von Objekten besser nachkommen.

Von Lynda Albertson

December 8, 2016

Repatriation: United States of America v. One Roman Marble Peplophoros Statue Stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome, Italy

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
Guest Blogger: Prince Giuseppe Grifeo di Partanna, Rome

Another work of ancient Italian art, one of 15 statues stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 is finally returning home to Italy from the United States.  

Known as the Torlonia Peplophoros, this first-century BC sculpture depicts the body of a young goddess wearing a body-length garment called a “peplos”. According to the FBI, it had been sold to a private owner in Manhattan in 2001 for approximately $81,000 after first being smuggled into the United States sometime during the late 1990s.  

In a redelivery ceremony on 7 December 2016, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's military art crime police, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, accepted the statue formally on behalf of the country of Italy from United States, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McGarrity of the New York Field Office and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim.  The ceremony took place at the Kingstone Library at the prestigious "New York Historical Society" in Central Park West.

The statue was stolen from Villa Torlonia on the evening of 11 November 1983, when a group of thieves broke into the villa's grounds along the via Nomentana and made off with a haul of fifteen statues plus a variety of other objects. When the city of Rome discovered the theft, its citizens were left both shocked and outraged.  Throughout the passing years, they have never waivered on their resolution to find the missing objects. 

The historic Villa Torlonia and its grounds were purchased by the City of Rome in 1978 and had been left in a state of considerable neglect for at least two decades before a much-needed plan of refurbishment, completed in March 2006, could be agreed upon and funds allocated for the works to be undertaken.   The theft of the objects at the villa occurred during the period of historic site's decay.

From the 17th century until the middle of the 18th century the site of the villa had been a part of the landed patrimony of the Italian noble family Pamphilj who used the semi-rural terrain for agricultural purposes. The land was then purchased by another family of nobility, the Colonna, in 1760 who continued to use the site for the same purpose. 

In 1797 the land was bought by Franco-Italian banker to the Vatican, Prince Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia. In 1806, Torlonia contracted neo-Classic architect Giuseppe Valadier to transform two buildings, the edificio padronale and the casino Abbati into a proper palace. As part of the redevelopment project, he commissioned new stables, outbuildings and formal gardens which he embellished with classical-era statues. 

Much later, in 1919, a Jewish catacomb, dating to the third and fourth century CE, was discovered while reinforcing the foundation of the “scuderie nuove”, or new stables, located on the southwest corner of the Villa Torlonia estate.

Wartime gardening for food at the Villa Torlonia
Image Credit: MiBACT
In 1925 the son of Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia allocated his family's home as the official residence of Benito Mussolini, who was made to pay 1 lire per year in symbolic rent. Mussolini and Prince Alessandro Torlonia then started construction, never completed, of a fortified, airtight bunker underneath the palace residence designed to resist both aerial bombardment and chemical welfare.  Part of the villa's considerable neglect, is due in no small part to the city's attempt, at least apathetically, to ignore the villa's distasteful Fascist legacy. 

But going back to 1983, when the theft occurred. This is not the first repatriation of an object traced to the theft 33 years ago.   

Image Credit: Richard Drew / AP

A first century CE marble head, severed from the body of an ancient statue of Dionysus, was consigned for auction at Christie's in New York for USD $25,000 in September 2002.  Likely removed because it was lighter to carry and easier to sell, the statue was being stored in the former old stables at Villa Torlonia.  

To rub salt in an already overlooked wound, the body that was once attached to this head, also went missing a few weeks after the November 1983 theft.  Both were repatriated to Italy in 2006.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
As  result of these two thefts and in part due to several earlier predations, the city's cultural heritage authorities eventually replaced all of the villa's precious statues on the villa's external grounds, with concrete and plaster replicas. 

Yesterday's restitution was announced officially in Manhattan and via the web by Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  

The case was handled by the FBI's Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit and followed up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson.

Conference - Second AHRC Workshop | Art, Crime and Criminals: Art, Crime and Criminals: Painting Fresh Pictures of Art Theft, Fraud and Plunder


Organised by: Professor Duncan Chappell,  Dr. Saskia Hufnagel and Ms. Marissa Marjos.

Date: January 16, 2017

Location: Royal United Services Institute for Defence & Security Studies (RUSI)
61 Whitehall
London, United Kingdom

Workshop Fees: None, but registration is required 

Following the success of the first workshop, this second workshop aims specifically at discussions in the area of art fraud and forgeries. The following (third) workshop will focus on looting and iconoclasm (September 2017, Berlin, Ministry of Finance). 

All workshops will be structured around a number of presentations by prominent actors in the field, but the main parts are discussions around the topic between all participants.   

The aim of the workshop series is to encourage interdisciplinary research, cross-jurisdictional sharing of knowledge and exchange of ideas between academics, practitioners and policy makers. Practitioners will be invited from various backgrounds, such as, police, customs, museums, galleries, auction houses, dealerships, insurance companies, art authenticators, forensic scientists, private security companies etc.  

The proposed network not only aims at bringing the different players together, but also establishes a communication platform that will ensure their engagement beyond the three workshops. Organisations invited to the 2nd workshop include: The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), Metropolitan Police, German Police (LKA Berlin), Hong Kong Police, Europol, Authenticators and Art Experts, The Art Loss Register, Art Recovery International, Private Policing Sector, Victoria and Albert Museum (Security), National Gallery, Historic England, Artists/Forgers, Insurance Sector, Journalists, Association of Chiefs of Police, MPs, Academics from various disciplines, Art Dealers and many more.

Workshop 2 will focus specifically on the subject area of art fraud and forgery. In an international art market that is currently reaching record levels of pricing and unprecedented levels of speculative sales and investment the incentives for art fraud and forgery have never been higher. Among questions to be addressed will be:

  1. What is the prevalence of this type of crime?
  2. Who are the principal participants?
  3. To what extent are existing regulatory mechanisms effective?
  4. Is self-regulation of the art market the way forward?
  5. How are forgeries placed on the market?
  6. What scientific measures can be taken to better protect the art market?
  7. How should identified fraudulent works of art be dealt with?
  8. How can the legal and financial risks in authenticating works of art be mitigated?

Workshop Schedule

9.00 am Registration

9.30 am – 10.00 am

  • Introduction by Duncan Chappell and Saskia Hufnagel
10:00am – 11.30 am
1. International Case Studies

  • Dr. Noah Charney, founder, Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA)
  • Rene Allonge – Detective Chief Superintendent, Criminal Investigation Office (State of Berlin) and Steven Weigel – Detective Superintendent, Criminal Investigation Office (State of Berlin)
  • Saskia Hufnagel, QMUL

Coffee Break 11.30 am – 12.00 pm

12.00 pm – 1.00 pm

  • Presentation by and Dialogue with John Myatt

1.00pm - 2.00 pm Lunch

2.00 pm – 3.30 pm
2. International Law Enforcement and Security Perspectives

  • Vernon Rapley, Head of Security and Visitor Services at the Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Toby Bull, Senior Inspector, Hong Kong Police
  • Michael Will, Europol

3.30 pm – 4.00 pm Afternoon Tea

4.00 pm – 6.00 pm
3. Detection, Prosecution and other legal action

  • Professor Robyn Sloggett, Director, Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, University of Melbourne
  • James Ratcliffe, Art Loss Register
  • Robert A. Kugler – Barrister/Solicitor (Rechtsanwalt), Höly, Rauch & Partner - Lawyers, Berlin

Presentations from the first workshop can be found on the Queen Mary University website via the link here.

December 7, 2016

Seizure: Cairo International Airport - Islamic-era manuscripts and antiquarian books


On November 28, 2016 customs agents at Cairo International Airport foiled a plot to illegally export a shipment of antique Islamic-era books.  Suspicious of the 43-box shipping documentation on objects destined for Doha, Qatar, the items being exported were flagged for further controls.  Upon examination by customs officials, the shipment was found to contain a large quantity of antiquarian books and manuscripts.  Based on their initial findings, and the markings on some of the books, the shipment was frozen on suspicion that the objects may have been illegally acquired.  

Tawfiq Massad, Director General of Customs, authorized that the shipment be held, pending a comprehensive review.  His office in turn formally notified the antiquities authorities so that they could explore the collection's authenticity and its legal or illegal export status as it relates to Egyptian law. 

Working with Ahmed El-Rawi, head of the Recuperation Antiquities Section of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities it was decided that a portion of the books and volumes fell under the protection of Egypt's Laws for rare and ancient books, e.g.

To be the product of Egyptian civilization or the successive civilizations or the creation of art, sciences, literature, or religion that took place on the Egyptian lands since the pre-historic ages and during the successive historic ages till before 100 years ago. --Law No. 8 of 2009, as amended in 2014 on the protection of rare and ancient books and manuscripts, 

Sixty-six rare books and volumes were seized in total; some dating back to the early printing age.  The rare Islamic-era books, having been published during the period needed to be considered as a heritage asset, will be sent to the Egyptian National Library and Archives.  Forty-four volumes, that still bore the stamps of the Al-Azhar library, will be returned to the university's library collection.

Sentencing: Museum Theft at the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio


On December 5, 2016 Judge Luciano Gorra, of Italy's Verona tribunal sentenced four of twelve accomplices arrested in connection with the theft of 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015 from the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio. 

Ricciardi Pasquale Silvestri, the point of connection between the Italians and the Moldavians criminals involved in the theft, was given the heaviest prison sentence: 10 years and eight months for his role in the armed robbery and kidnapping.  His brother, Francesco Silvestri, the contracted security guard at the Castelvecchio museum on the night of the robbery, also involved in the plot, was sentenced to 10 years for his key role in illustrating the vulnerabilities of the museum. 

Pasquale's Moldovan girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk received a six-year prison sentence, for her role and translator between the members of the transnational organized crime group.  Another co-conspirator, also from Moldova, Victor Potinga, was sentenced to five years. Potinga transported the stolen artworks in his van from Verona to Brescia the evening of the theft. 

Two other defendants, Anatolie Burlac Jr. and Denis Damaschin had each entered pleas earlier for their roles in the crime.  Damaschin was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months incarceration for receiving stolen goods, having stored the paintings in his home in Brescia, in Northern Italy before they were disguised in television boxes and transported to the Ukraine. 

Arrested in Romania and extradited to Italy after some initial confusion over his identity, his father is Anatolie Burlac Sr., who is also wanted for questioning in the crime, Burlac Jr. received the lightest of the sentences handed down to date: one year eight months.   This was most likely due to the critical statements he made while being interrogated by the Italian authorities, which contributed to the convictions handed down in the case. Other accomplices, arrested last March, have asked to be tried in Moldova.


Testimony presented in the case against the six in Italy indicate that the theft was originally planned for the 18th of November. It was then postponed to the next evening as the accomplices arrived at the museum on the 18th only to find additional cars in the parking lot indicating their was too much activity in the area to proceed.

According to defence attorneys, the original plan was to rob the museum of one painting only, a theft to order, with only the guard-accomplice present who was to pretend to authorities that he had been subdued during the robbery. Unfortunately, the accomplices arrived prematurely while the museum's cashier was still in the building. By tying her up and gagging her along with their accomplice-cohort, the thieves transformed the museum theft from a simple robbery to armed robbery and kidnapping. 

Photo Credit Sputnik News
Ukrainian law enforcement believes that the works were shipped out of Moldova and into the Ukraine after arrests were made in the case in mid-March.  If the shift was made to hide the evidence or to send the works onwards to buyers in either somewhere in the Ukraine or Russia has not been established with certainty, however Italian police and Ukrainian media reports have suggested that the final buyer was rumored to be a wealthy collector in Chechnya.  According to the Russian news agency TASS, the paintings were sent from Moldova to the Ukraine via the postal service and at the time of their discovery, were awaiting transfer back to Moldova.

All 17 artworks were recovered May 6, 2016 in the Ukrainian region of Odessa during a raid carried out by the special Ukrainian police forces.  The museum pieces were found wrapped in plastic bags and hidden in a willow forest a few kilometers from the border between Moldova and Ukraine on Turunciuk island, a body of land that sits on the left branch of the Dniester River.  Despite their hide spot, the paintings were recovered in better condition that would be expected given their multi-country transport. 

Ironically the wheels of Italian justice have proved surprisingly fast.  Faster even than international negotiations with the representatives of the Kiev government, who currently still holds 14 of the artworks, one year onward after the theft.  The 17 artworks worth an estimated €10m-€15m, are no longer held ransom by an opportunistic group of thieves.  They are being held hostage by diplomatic bureaucracy.