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August 12, 2022

Raffaele Monticelli's connection to Bank Leu A.G. and to the Getty Villa's "Seated Musician and Sirens" AKA Orpheus and the Sirens

In a tightly worded announcement made on 11 August 2022 the J. Paul Getty Museum revealed that it will finally relinquish its nearly-lifesize terracotta sculptural group "Seated Musician and Sirens" to the Italian authorities "after evidence persuaded the museum that the statues had been illegally excavated."  In elaborating on the three sculptures' return, directors Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle of the J. Paul Getty stated "Thanks to information provided by Matthew Bogdanos and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicating the illegal excavation of Orpheus and the Sirens, we determined that these objects should be returned." 

While this announcement seemed like breaking news across the English speaking world, making several major news publications, it's not to those living and working on Italian cultural heritage losses. Many of those who have been following the tug of war between Italy and the Getty museum for more than a decade have felt that these objects, coming from the Magna Graecia colony of Taranto, should have already come home, and are curious as to what confirmatory evidence the New York authorities now have about these objects' illicit past and those who handled them which finally resulted in the museum's sudden release of their prized grouping. 

As backstory, the seated poet and his two standing sirens were confiscated in April 2022 as part of New York's investigation into an accused Italian antiquities smuggler. Originally brightly painted, this large-scale sculptural ensemble was purchased by John Paul Getty Sr.,  the founder of Getty Oil Company, in the spring of 1976 with no known provenance aside attesting to its collecting history, aside from the name of the Swiss bank seller.

Orpheus, seated on his chair, with footstool, and slab, is missing part of his musical instrument (probably a plektron) and the middle finger of the left hand.  Reassembled from a number of fragments prior to its acquisition by the Getty, his legs, head and other sections appear to have been reconsolidated, leaving him mostly intact.  Missing sections were also filled in, and smoothed over, with obscuring encrustations added on the body and the head, perhaps to conceal break lines which can sometimes be indicative of illegal excavation. 

Like with the sculpture of the poet, both of the sirens in this grouping also show signs of having been reconstructed from multiple fragments.  On the first siren, gaps can be seen in her short chiton and in her right claw.  For the second, most of the curls and the little finger of her right hand have been broken off the statue at some point in her transport out of Italy. 

But what did John Paul Getty Sr. have to say about their circulation on the art market and his collecting habits as he filled his new museum?

Prior to his death, and in ever declining health despite being deeply involved in the construction and opening of the Getty Villa,  Getty made multiple final acquisitions for his museum, with little attention towards the provenance and via several suspect brokers of ancient art who repeatedly have been accused of  trafficking in antiquities.  These purchases are outlined in his March 6, 1976 diary entry and include:  

  • a 530 BCE Archaic marble head from Heinz Herzer worth 56,000 DM (Object Number: 76.AA.6);
  • a Greek Attic Panatheniac Amphora Attributed to the Nichomachos Group from Nicolas Koutoulakis worth 70,000 USD (Object Number: 76.AE.5.a);
  • a Statue of Togatus from Bank Leu, A.G. for 61,000 SF;
  • a 180 BCE Hellenic Marble Head from Muhammed Yoganah for 50,000 USD;
  • a 100–250 CE Toman silver statuette of Venus from Mathias Komor for $7500 (Object Number:76.AM.4);
  • a 210 CE Front of a Sarcophagus with the Myth of Endymion from Robin Symes for 30,000 GBP (Object Number: 76.AA.8.b);  
and finally, 
  • the group of 3 statues made in Tarentum at the end of the 4th century BCE for $550,000 from Bank Leu, A.G. (Object Numbers: 76.AD.11.1, 76.AD.11.2 and 76.AD.11.3).
Getty wrote in his dairy that all of the artefacts above, had been purchased on the recommendation of Ji艡铆 Frel, the Getty's Czech-American archaeologist.  Frel, was the J. Paul Getty Museum's first Curator of Antiquities would later be implicated in a number of controversies that tarnished the reputation of the museum.  Based on suspicions of malpractice, he was placed on paid leave from the Getty in 1984 and was allowed to quietly resign in 1986.  

After leaving the California museum, Frel, served as a consultant for wealthy European collectors, taught classes, and shuttled between residences in Budapest and Italy. At one point he even registered himself as being domiciled in Sicily, setting his residence in the palazzo of the problematic antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina in Castelvetrano.

Speaking with Italian journalists, New York prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's Antiquities Trafficking Unit stated that the J. Paul Getty Museum had cooperated with the DANY regarding these pieces after their seizure, but underscored that their seemingly impromptu restitution is still part of an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Manhattan office in collaboration with the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale.  Bogdanos added that the museum's repatriation statement, released by the Getty, "left half of the truth out" and by that one can surmise he is referring to their seizure the previous April. 

Speaking further, Bogdanos added that this multi-year investigation started with the exploration of suspect market actors his team has spent years investigating.  The prosecutor underscored that this sculpture group's illegal removal from Italy, and export to the United States via Switzerland, involved a well known trafficking network which is known to have operated in Italy for decades.  

One member of this network who has now been publicly identified is Raffaele Monticelli, the retired elementary teacher, who gave up teaching for the more lucrative roll of middle man broker of illicit antiquities.  Monticelli has been arrested several times, and connected to multiple trafficking networks for decades.  Most recently, in late 2021, he was arrested by the Dutch authorities after having carried a looted helmet to Delft for restoration.

If we take a look at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's Michael Steinhardt statement of facts, we can also determine, on page 36, that Raffaele Monticelli also had a relationship with Leo Mildenberg, the late Swiss numismatist for the Swiss private Bank Leu A.G., who is known to have brokered sales both for Raffaele Monticelli and for Gianfranco Becchina. 

How long has this restitution taken? 

The sculptural group first appeared as a grouping of high concern in the list of identified finds drawn up by Italy's Ministry of Culture at the beginning of 2006.  

The Taranto provenance, in addition to appearing in the digital record compiled by the J. Paul Museum, is supported by Italian scholars Pietro Giovanni Guzzo and Angelo Bottini who published the grouping purchased by the Getty in 1976. 

Furthermore, an article, published in the "Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno" dated 30 November 2006, and republished in the web magazine "patrimoniosos" stated "the comparisons with the monumental groups in terracotta found in central and southern Italy and the representations we have on the ceramic finds of Apulian production, which document the presence of decorative terracotta statues on the monumental tombs of Taranto, dispel any doubts about their origin from southern Italy "

Photographs of the pieces were also seen in 2018 in a series of black and white photos documenting portions of the restored sculptures on the 8 December 2018 RAI documentary "Petrolio - Ladri di Bellezza" produced by journalist Duilio Giammaria and Senator Margherita Corrado has repeatedly spoken in the XVIII Session of the Italian Senate about the need to bring these artefacts home.

Yet, despite all that, the 4th century BCE sculptures were (still) center stage on the ground floor of the Getty Villa in California's Pacific Palisades during the museum's  exhibition: Underworld - Imagining the Afterlife as late as October 31, 2018–March 18, 2019.   They were removed only after this investigation came to a head earlier this year.  

When Orpheus and his Sirens eventually fly home in September, they will initially go on display in the Museo dell'Arte Salvata (Museum of Rescued Art), housed in the Octagonal Hall at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.  Perhaps by then we will be able to publicly share how the New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan, HSI-ICE and the Italian Carabinieri moved this case successfully forward. 

July 14, 2022

Thursday, July 14, 2022 - 1 comment

In Memoriam - Dick Drent (1959-2022)

It is with deep regret that we learned of the passing of our former museum security and risk management professor and dearest friend Dick Drent, who passed away on the 12th of July 2022.

Dick served as a professor with ARCA’s Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection for more than a decade. Each year, his course not only provided participants with a thorough knowledge of the fascinating field of museum security, but drew upon his own magnificent career which spanned over three decades working on investigations, security and risk management. His unrivalled experience, his humour, and inspiring way of earning the respect of others, made his courses unique and unforgettable.  Entering a museum would never be the same again for anyone who had the privilege of studying with him. Or in his own words ‘your days of solely enjoying a museum or art will be over. Forever’. 

During his career in law enforcement, Dick fought organised crime and terrorism, mostly within the Netherland's Undercover and Sensitive Operation Unit. In 2005, he left policing to take on the role of director of security for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Over the next ten years he worked with this award-winning museum developing an OCE matrix which challenged traditionally reactive methods of museum risk management and instead took on a proactive security approach which focused on preventing incidents before they happen.  

While working at the VGM and after starting his own security and risk training consultancy, Dick served as the Van Gogh Museum's chief investigator working together with law enforcement authorities towards the eventual recovery of two stolen works of art by Vincent Van Gogh: View of the Sea at Scheveningen and 
Dick receiving the confirmation
that the two Van Gogh paintings recovered
from drug lord Raffaele Imperiale
were the art works stolen
during the 2022 Van Gogh Museum heist.
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen. 

These paintings were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in 2002 and successfully recovered 14 years later in coordination with Italian and Dutch law enforcement after it was determined that the paintings were held by one of the leaders of a Camorra affiliated drug trafficking clan operating throughout the Bay of Naples, the Netherlands and Spain.

Even after the paintings were recovered, Dick's security guard instincts carried on, even during the press event at Naples Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte when this recovery was being celebrated.  In a room filled with over two hundred members of the press and law enforcement officers, Dick stood guard over the two Van Gogh paintings as if they were heads of state, ensuring that they were well protected. 

Besides these memorable recoveries, Dick was also active in several other ways for ARCA. In Lebanon, he was one of our key instructors in a specialised training program for countering antiquities trafficking in the Mashreq, a joint collaboration between UNESCO with ARCA along with other affiliated NGOs working on art and heritage crime in conflict, post conflict and transit countries. 

Dick also stepped in to provide online eLearning courses when the COVID pandemic made our summer training program too risky, and assisted ARCA in any way he could, using his expertise, wide network, and endless energy to advance the mission of our association in the fields of cultural property protection.

Having him here to teach with and for ARCA was a profound gift.  One that we will miss dearly. 

We are incredibly grateful for everything he has done for the association and for the whole ARCA family of alumni, professors, staff, and volunteers, all of whome will miss him tremendously.

Our thoughts are with Dick’s wife Petra, his daughter Simone, his granddaughter Kato Marie, his son in law Wouter, and his bonus daughter Barbara. 

A condolence service will be held on Tuesday, the 19th of July at 7:00 pm in Zaandam. 

The pain of this hard good-bye is our heart’s tribute to the privilege to knowing, learning, and working with him. 

Rust zacht, beste makker,

ARCA Alumni
ARCA Professors
Edgar Tijhuis, academic director
Noah Charney, founding president
Lynda Albertson, CEO

Ohhh I am so sorry to hear this. He really did stand out and I loved all the stories he shared with us about the museum. I will always remember him. 
Please stay strong. I know deep in my heart that he will stay alive inside all of us. No one forgets a friend and a professor....he worked so hard in his careers and passed on knowledge and changed us all. I say this with a tiny tear in my eyes. I don't think I can ever forget what he gave us at ARCA. Please know that he will live forever. You will see and feel him in every course you succeed in. You all made it happen. Stay strong for his sake. 馃尭❤️  --Rania Kataf - ARCA 2016

Dick was so very important and he did it through his heart. There are tons of people who insist you listen to them and respect their authority, but he never did that. He was always himself and that assurance and humor made you want to be near him, learn from him, work with him. -- Summer Clowers - ARCA 2013

Very sad to hear this. Such good memories from Dick’s course, especially at the museum trip. All the best wishes to Petra, family and friends. --Max Van Steen - ARCA 2019

I’m so very sorry to hear this 馃槥 Please pass our love on to Petra and the family. Dick was an incredibly generous, kind and gifted individual. He will be missed.  --Alexandra Taylor - ARCA 2019

Goodbyes really hurt when the story is not finished and the book has been closed too soon.  I will truly and deeply miss you my dear friend.  --LA

For information about sending condolences, please write to us at


May 25, 2022

Justice Rendered: The final confiscation of properties and business enterprises of Gianfranco Becchina has been confirmed.

DIA Seizing Gianfranco Becchina assets in 2017

Italy's Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, the country's Anti-Mafia Investigation Department has issued a confirmation confiscation decree based upon a request from the Public Prosecutor's Office of Palermo.  As per this decree, this action finalises the confiscation of a significant portion of movable, real estate and corporate assets "attributable to a well-known international trader of works of art art and artefacts of historical-archaeological value" long suspected to have links with the Sicilian mafia, in and around the port town of Trapani. 

While the DIA's announcement didn't name the, now, 83 year old dealer living in Castelvetrano, the regional newspapers in Sicily did.   

For decades the Trapani branch of the Cosa Nostra is believed to have accumulated at least some portions of its wealth through the proceeds of illicit archaeological finds.  Some of which were procured through grave robbers working at the isolated Archaeological Park of Selinunte, one of Sicily's great ancient Greek cities, located near Castelvetrano.  This archaeological site covers some 40 hectares and includes Greek temples, ancient town walls, and the ruins of residential and commercial buildings from Italy's past.  Given its remote location, much of the site has not been formally excavated, and it has been prey to opportunistic looters for decades.

To further dismantle the mafia's operational funding in and around Trapani, in November 2017 Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate, through the Court of Trapani's penal and preventive measures section, filed an initial seizure order for all movable assets, including real estate and corporate enterprises attributable to Gianfranco Becchina on the basis of an order issued from the District Attorney of Palermo based upon investigations conducted by the DIA, under the coordination of the Palermo Public Prosecutor's Office on the basis that much of Becchina's accumulated wealth was generated through the proceeds of trafficked antiquities. 

Palazzo dei Principi Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli

The preliminary 2017 order included the seizure of Becchina's cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., Olio Verde srl., his signature olive oil production company, Demetra srl., Becchina & company srl.  Real estate holdings confiscated included some 38 buildings as well as Becchina's portions of Palazzo dei Principi Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, once the noble residence of the family Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, which is part of the ancient Castello Bellumvider, (an additional part of this palazzo is owned by the city of Castelvetrano and houses the town hall).  Investigators also seized a total of 24 parcels of land belonging to Becchina, and four vehicles.  In total, the value of the seized assets is estimated to be worth more than 10 million euros. 

Giovanni Franco Becchina (b. 1939) was born in Sicily. In the 1970s, he established a business, Palladion Antike Kunst, in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife Ursula.  For almost forty years Becchina headed one of Italy's most notorious “cordata” (a trafficking cell) in a lucrative criminal enterprise that used gangs of tombaroli to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout southern Italy.

It is well-documented that Becchina and other traffickers like him, laundered their looted antiquities through exhibitions at museums and in private collections with manufactured provenance, providing a thin veneer of respectability to material removed from Italy and laundered through the ancient art market. 

In 2001, Becchina was arrested in Italy and charged with receiving stolen goods, illegally exporting goods, and conspiring to traffic goods. In May 2002, the Swiss and Italian authorities raided Palladion Antike Kunst and three of Becchina’s located storage facilities.  A fourth was raided in 2005. 

In 2011, Judge Rosalba Liso dismissed the charges of receiving stolen goods, illegally exporting goods, and conspiring to traffic goods, due to the running of the statute of limitations.  However, the Judge in the case confirmed the seizure order for the 5,919 antiquities Becchina had in stock at the time the 2002 and 2005 search warrants were executed.  Material evidence obtained during these seizures c confirmed that Becchina bought antiquities directly from tombaroli. Over 90% came from a single source: convicted tombarolo (and later capo squadra in his own right) Raffaele Monticelli.

May 3, 2022

Justice rendered in the attempted theft of Claude Monet's De Voorzaan en de Westerhem from the Zaans Museum

Forty-nine year old, repeat art napper, Henk Bieslijn has been sentenced to four years in prison in the Netherlands for the broad daylight failed theft of Oscar-Claude Monet's De Voorzaan en de Westerhem from the Zaans Museum in Zaandam.

Here is a timeline of how the events in that case developed. 

16 August 2021 - An attempted theft, occurs at around half-past ten at the Zaans Museum in Zaandam, Netherlands 

During the incident, one culprit, later determined to be Henk Bieslijn walked into the Zaans Museum during opening hours wearing a wig as a disguise.  After nonchalantly grabbing Claude Monet's De Voorzaan en de Westerhem, the law-breaking art aficionado exited the museum, only to be spotted by a bystander, who attempted to impede the thief's progress by grabbing hold of him.   

In the ensuing confusion, three shots were fired and the pilfering art thief dropped the Monet but successfully mounted the back of a black motorbike driven by the accomplice. 

Thankfully, no one is injured, and the artwork by the famous French impressionist was quickly returned to the museum. Albeit, slightly worse for the wear.   A short while later, law enforcement authorities recovered the get-away vehicle after it had been abandoned by Bieslijn and his accomplice on the Zuiderweg in nearby Wijdewormer. 

21 August 2021 - A former art burgler walked into a police station
Dutch newspapers announce that a man named "Henk B." reported to be one of two thieves involved in the Zaans Museum failed heist, had walked himself into the Noord-Holland police to answer questions regarding the attempted theft of the Claude Monet painting.  

It is almost immediately clear that this individual is Henk Bieslijn, who on 7 December 2002, was involved in the nighttime burglary of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. In that incident, two works of art, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen and View of the Sea at Scheveningen by Vincent Van Gogh we stolen, and remained missing, in the hands of organised crime actors, until 2016.

January 2022
A second suspect in the Zaans Museum attempted theft, this one, a thirty-seven year old unnamed man from Purmerend, is taken into custody.  He is subsequently released after questioning.

19 April 2022 - Bieslijn confesses
Appearing before the Dutch court in Alkmaar, Henk Bieslijn admits to the court that he attempted to steal Claude Monet's De Voorzaan en de Westerhem from the Zaans Museum, purportedly under pressure from criminals.  Bieslijn, claimed that after serving his time for the 2002 Van Gogh Museum burglary, he had left behind his former life of crime and until recently had been working at festivals until the COVID pandemic resulted in him being underemployed.

To fill the gaps, Bieslijn stated that he had decided to begin selling marijuana, and claimed he had picked up a substantial quantity of cannabis for resale, passing it off to another individual in the front of a cafe, while he, in turn, walked out the back. Bueslijn then claimed that this person disappeared, which resulted in him being left with a debt of some €12,000 euros to the organisation he bought drugs from. 

Bieslijn also told the court that after the 2002 Van Gogh theft, he had been approached by criminals on more than one occasion, each time, as they purportedly looked for someone to conduct a similar heist.  During each of these prior incidents, the purportedly reluctant art thief claimed he turned the criminals down.   That is until 2021, when he was persuaded otherwise, with what he perceived to be threats towards his son. 

Bieslijn told the Dutch Court that on Saturday evening, 14 August 202, his telephone rang and he was ordered, not asked, to steal the Monet at the Zaans Museum in Zaandam, with the assistance of an accomplice.  The art thief stated he never thought the daylight theft would be successful, but had agreed to participate in hopes of showing that he was willing to cooperate, and in doing so, ensure the protection of his son. 

Bieslijn denied having fired a weapon on the day of the attempted robbery but  admitted that the pair had first escaped on the getaway scooter later found abandoned on the Zuiderweg.  The accomplices then took a car in the direction of Purmerend, where at some point on their journey, Bieslijn got out of the car at a bus stop and took a bus back to the city of Amsterdam.

Not believing Bieslijn's testimony as stated, and given his prior involvement in the Van Gogh Museum thefts, the Prosecutor asked that he be sentenced to four years in prison.  IN making this recommendation, the prosecutor noted that at no point had the former art thief come forward to report any of the purported earlier incidences of coercion or intimidation and had also failed to go to the authorities on the day if the Zaans Museum theft, even after shots had been fired. 

3 May 2022 - The court hands down its sentence.  
Citing the "particularly brutal theft in broad daylight" the Judge in Henk Bieslijn's case granted the public prosecutor's request and sentenced the two-time art thief to four years in jail.  In issuing their ruling the court concluded that the theft of the Monet painting was completed, not merely attempted, as at the time of the incident, the artwork had been taken from its mount inside the museum and carried outside.  The judge further stated that the court wouldn't take Bieslijn's purported criminal debt, or possible criminal coercion into consideration, as the incident involving the lost bag of weed could not be verified, nor did it diminish the seriousness of the crime.  

The sentence of four years is similar to the one Bieslijn received on 26 July 2004, along with his coconspirator Octave Durham, for their roles in the museum burglary which nabbed Vincent Van Gogh's Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen and View of the Sea at Scheveningen.   One hopes that this time it may serve as a deterrent. 

April 22, 2022

Save the Date/Call for Presenters: August 5-7, 2022 ARCA's 11th Annual Art Crime Conference

Conference Date:  
August 5-7, 2022
Abstract Submittal Deadline:  
June 15, 2022
Location: Amelia, Italy

Celebrating a decade of academic conferences, after a two year hiatus due to the COVID Pandemic ARCA will host its 11th summer interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of August 5-7, 2022. 

Known as the Amelia Conference, the Association's weekend-long event aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of art crimes and the protection of art and cultural heritage and brings together researchers and academics, police, and individuals from many of the allied professions that interact with the art market, coming together to discuss issues of common concern. 

The Amelia Conference is an annual ARCA event, held in the historic city of Amelia, in the heart of Italy's Umbria region where ARCA also plays host to its Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

Given this conference date has been shifted until late summer, ARCA has extended its call for presenters and welcomes speaking proposals from individuals in relevant fields, including law, criminal justice, security, art history, conservation, archaeology, or museum security and risk management on the topical sessions listed here. We invite individuals interested in presenting to submit their topic of choice along with a presentation title, a concise 400-word abstract, a brief professional biography and a recent CV to the conference organizers at:

italy.conference [at]

Accepted presenters will be asked to limit their presentations to a maximum of 15-20 minutes, and will be grouped together in thematically-organized panels in order to allow time for brief questions from the audience and fellow panelists.  

To register for this event, please go to our Eventbrite page located here.

Conference Lodging:
To celebrate a decade of hosting the Amelia Conference, ARCA has decided to shake things up a bit.  This year we encourage conference attendees to consider booking with Country House Monastero le Grazie, an enchanting centuries-old Cistercian monastery adjacent to the Church and Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built in 1300.  This unique conference lodging venue is located in the hamlet of Foce, just a few kilometers outside the centro storico of Amelia.

Built for a Roman Catholic monastic order founded in 1098 by St. Bernard, those who joined the Cistercians sought to live a contemplative life in a protected oasis of peace and introspection, while offering refuge for pilgrims and weary travellers. This mindset fits perfectly with the tone of the conference ARCA hopes to establish each summer.  And today, this historic former monastery has been converted into an evocative boutique events residence which offers ARCA’s conference attendees a lodging experience in a spectacular setting unlike any other.

Lodgers at the Monastero le Grazie can choose rooms in one of 16 apartments spread out within the central body of the monastery and arranged on two floors, some with loft features overlooking common areas. Each of these once monastic apartments has been recently updated and contains from one to up to six comfortable bedrooms with adjacent communal living spaces. Many of the apartment bedrooms have private bathrooms (with bath or shower), hairdryer, courtesy kit and linen. Some second bedrooms are located on loft mezzanines overlooking common areas.   

On site the Monastary has a restaurant, a large swimming pool, breakout rooms, a small bar, a panoramic terrace and two hectares of garden where guests can sit or take a walk. 

Conference attendees making their lodging reservations at the Monastero not only support local Umbrian small business owners but will also have a chance to support and preserve (and experience) a unique residential experience from Italy’s past.  

Those staying at the monastery will also be just steps away from the conference's Friday Icebreaker Cocktail which will be held on the terrace of the monastery’s gardens.  The theme this year is the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. 

Likewise, a stay in a monastery invariably means great food, too as Italians have a saying: “Nobody eats better than a monk.”  With that in mind, this year's Saturday’s Gala Conference dinner will be catered at the Monastery's  slow food restaurant, “Il Ristoro del Priore”.

Attendees selecting lodging at the Monastero will be provided with transport to and from the conference hall venue in the centro storico of Amelia (7 minutes away by car) on the morning and evening of Saturday and Sunday so as to be able to attend all conference sessions.

We look forward to seeing you this August. If you have any questions about the call to presenters, want to book conference lodging at the Monastero or have any other conference related questions, please feel free to write to us at:

We hope to see many of you in Amelia in August!

April 11, 2022

Potential CITES violations and a seizure of specimens from one (of many) large hunted animals collections in Spain.

Image Credit:  Guardia Civil, Spain

It wasn't until an October 9,  2019 El Pais journalist Manual Ansede wrote an article about the hunting compulsion of Spain's Marcial G贸mez Sequeira showing hundreds of animals mounted on taxidermy stands at his luxury chalet in La Moraleja (Alcobendas) in North Madrid.

In general though, over the years, the public hasn't taken much notice of country's wealthy gentlemen and their hunting obsessions.  But, as the result of that article, the Spanish national police opened an investigation, looking into potential violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, the international agreement between governments which aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.

When interviewed for the El Pais article, collector Marcial G贸mez Sequeira told journalist Ansede that he estimated, if he added all his hunting trips together, that he had been firing bullets into animals for 24 hours a day over the course of 11 years and three months of his life.   All the while hiding in plain sight while proudly  documenting his kills in multiple forums on film and in print. 

Sequeira's wealth cam from the company Sanitas, founded in 1954 by a group of Spanish doctors, including Marcial G贸mez Gil, the father of Marcial G贸mez Sequeira, who became the firms first CEO as majority shareholder. In the 1960s when his father left that position the role fell to his son, who remained the majority shareholder of the company until 1988.

Marcial G贸mez Sequeira has stated that he went on his first hunting safari in 1971, in Mozambique where he claimed he paid 60,000 pesetas (€360) and was responsible for shooting some 35 species, including a zebra, a lion, a hippopotamus and an elephant. After that he starts hunting/collecting seriously and over the next 48 years has told reporters he went on hunting safaris three or four times per year.

Not the sole wealthy Spaniard with a passion for holding a gun, in 1973 Marcial G贸mez Sequeira’s is known to have been on a hunting trip in Persia (Iran) at the invitation of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at the Shah’s hunting reserve. There he met the future King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, who had also been invited by the Shah’s brother.  The pair would go on to hunt with one another on occasion afterwards. 

In 1988 as the majority shareholder of Sanitas, Marcial G贸mez Sequeira sold his shares in the company to British multinational BUPA for almost 22 billion pesetas, the equivalent of €130 million.  In doing so, in doing so, he failed to declare in personal income tax, the capital gains from the sale of his shares, some 9,541 million pesetas, or the equivalent of 57 million euros.  In the later 2019 El Pais article, G贸mez Sequeira reported that he had used the proceeds earned from his company's sale to further pursue his trophy hunting, stating:

“Three years ago I tried to calculate the time I have spent hunting,” ...“I worked out that I had been shooting for 24 hours a day over the course of 11 years and three months of my life. Firing bullets non-stop.”

October 2011 
Between 2011 and 2014 Marcial G贸mez Sequeira’s authored three books on his hunts: 
脷ltimas cruzadas (The Last Crusades), with a prologue by Norbert Ullmann and Jes煤s Caballero.  His 190-page memoir, with numerous color photographs, maps and sketches, collects, as its name suggests, the author's last hunts in the former Soviet Union, with an epilogue of five other mountain hunts.

Aventuras de ahora y siempre describing his hunting in places like Cameroon,  Canada, Gredos, los Puertos de Tortosa-Beceite and Batuecas.

2014 Facebook Photo of Stiliyan Kadrev
"Un a帽o incre铆ble" which catalogues kills in Africa, the Caucasus, Central Europe and the Philippines.

In 2016 Buglarian big game journalist and sometimes hunting companion Stiliyan Kadrev filmed the draw of the Big Game market in Spain and the animals killed by Marcial G贸mez Sequeira inside his Madrid home.  He also documented the Spanish millionaire's November 2015 trip to Tallinn, Estonia for guided trophy Elk hunting as well as a trip to the taiga forests in Russia hunting for Eurasian lynx.  By this point, Kadrev documents that G贸mez Sequeira has already accumulated specimens from 370 species. 

Continuing on with the latest trend in the big game industry which entices wealthy hunters into killing animals of unusual colours for sport, Marcial G贸mez Sequeira travelled to South Africa on a game hunting trip with his 15-year-old grandson.  There, the owners of ranches auction off uniquely coloured members of any one species after raising them in captivity. During this safari he admits to having killed a golden wildebeest, a black impala, a golden oryx and a copper-coloured Springbok.  

By March 2019 Guillermo Fern谩ndez Vara and the mayor of Olivenza, Manuel Gonz谩lez Andrade (PSOE) had established a preliminary agreement to set up the Marcial G贸mez Sequeira Collection Hunting Museum, which had aims of displaying some 1,250 trophy kills by the collector inside an 18th-century building known as the Cavalry Barracks in the village of Olivenza, in one of Spain’s poorest regions, Extremadura.  

The preliminary agreement signed by G贸mez Sequeira and Fern谩ndez Vara was to involve handing the collection over to a new semi-public foundation and calculating its financial value so that Extremadura authorities can invest half of that again. 

Talking with the reporter, G贸mez Sequeira strolled through his home explaining where each animal was hunted and killed. There, the reporter noted a leopard from Zimbabwe, a tiger from Thailand, a lion from South Africa, an ocelot wildcat from Mexico, a cheetah from Namibia, a white rhinoceros from Angola, a wolf from Alaska, a monkey from Cameroon, an armadillo from the US, an African golden cat from Liberia, a spotted hyena from Mozambique, a crocodile from Tanzania and even a polar bear from Canada.

Each of the stuffed animals documented represented just some of the animals Marcial G贸mez Sequeira has killed in his world travels for big and small game hunting. In total the collector himself estimated that he has thousands of taxidermied animals, including more than 420 species.

After the article's publication, the mayor of Olivenza, Manuel Gonz谩lez Andrade withdrew his support for the collector's proposed hunting museum, writing on Facebook saying: 

"This project does not represent us, it does not represent the men and women of this town, nor does it represent the future of progress in Olivenza, which is why it will not be given space in any public municipal building."

By November 2021 and as public outcry increased with the attention the El Pais article drew, Spanish police opened an investigation into G贸mez Sequeira's hunting/collecting practices to determine if the collector has been involved in the alleged trafficking of protected species. 

As a result of this investigation, G贸mez Sequeira is unable to produce the import and handling paperwork documenting 49 animal specimens on taxidermy mounts, four elephant tusks, four hippopotamus canines, two rhinoceros horns and 132 carved ivory pieces.  Each of these was seized and taken to the National Museum of Natural Science in Madrid.

In a follow-up newspaper article, G贸mez Sequeira claimed that some of the animals in question were acquired before the CITES global convention on the trade of endangered species went into effect in 1975. 

Likewise, the Valencia police's Nature Protection Team, begin looking into another Spanish hunter's collection. 

Image Credit:  Guardia Civil

Inside the storage facility officers working  operaci贸n “VALCITES” located the preserved remains of cheetahs, leopards, lions, lynxes, polar bears, white rhinos and a total of 198 elephant tusks, not to mention the cut off feet of elephants, the bounty of a lifetime of serial killing for gratification. 

In total the officers documented 405 specimens representing species considered protected by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  Those included a scimitar oryx, declared extinct in the wild by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2000 and specimens representing the severely threatened addax or white antelope and the Bengal tiger.

While the name of the owner of the specimens involved in this seizure was not mentioned in the Guardia Civil's announcement,  Marcial G贸mez Sequeira is not the only Spaniard with an insatiable desire for blood sport.  Tony Sanches-Arino, another of the country's major sports hunters, has logged some 4,044 kills (1,317 being elephants).  And this week's seizure is believed to be the inherited property of one of the sons of well-known Valencian businessman Francisco Ros Casares, the steel entrepreneur and former president of Valencia CF, who died in 2014. 

ARCA wishes wealthy people would simply take up golf. It has a lower carbon footprint than rampant blood sport, and white men, chasing little white balls are less likely to upset the delicate balance the world's wildlife. 

April 8, 2022

What about the well known looted vases in the Altes Museum in Berlin?

Left: Medici Archive Polaroid with fragments of the Crater of Persephone,
attributed to the Painter of the Underworld,
Right: 4th century BCE crater as seen at the Altes Museum, Berlin

Tonight there was an interesting plot twist to this year's formal demand by the Public Prosecutor's Offices of Rome and Foggia, who in late January 2022 issued two confiscation decrees, the first from the Gip of Foggia, and the second from the Gip of Rome, Alessandro Arturi, at the request of the Procura del Tribunale Capitolino. These European confiscation orders were sent with an international rogatory request through the Directorate General for International Affairs and Judicial Cooperation of the Ministry of Justice asking for the return of 21 ornate South Italian artefacts currently on exhibition in Germany.   Tonight, at 20:30 CET, on RAI tg24  Spotlight, journalists, archaeologists, curators, and carabinieri officers discuss these artefacts' murky origins.  All the while the viewing audience got to see the overly simplified foot-dragging reticence of the management at the Altes Museum in Berlin towards Italy's determination to prove the illicit nature of these pieces, and to get these objects back.  

Many of the spectacular contested artefacts, date to the 4th century BCE and fall into distinct workshop groups, giving us a rich opportunity to examine how the peoples native to southern Italy used Greek myth to comprehend death and the afterlife in their funerary customs.  Some of the Apulian vessels share stylistic markings which demonstrate that they likely were created by the same attributed "hands", leading Italian experts to strongly believe that the artefacts may have been derived from a singular burial grouping.  

The artisans represented include the Group of Copenhagen 4223, the Varrese painter, the Darius painter, and the Underworld painter.  All of the artefacts had at one point been broken into fragments before being carefully restored and sold on to Wolf Dieter Heilmayer between 1983 and 1984, then at the Berlin archaeological museum located in West Germany.  The German museum director purchased these artefacts via Christoph Leon for 3 million German marks, under the pretext that they had been purportedly part of a historic collection belonging to a Basel family named the Cramers. 

In reality, the red figure vases are believed by the Italian authorities to have been looted, having once adorned a large chamber tomb, likely near Taranto, the coastal city and production centre in southern Italy from c. 430 - c. 300 BCE where many of these vases originate.  The single tomb grouping is something that Martin Maischberger, Deputy Director of the Collection of Classical Antiquities of the National Museums in Berlin contested during his interview, saying that most massive volute-kraters are found in pairs, not in groupings of seven, (three alone attributed to the Darius painter) like those purchased with the fictitious Cramer provenance bought by the museum director's predecessors.  

Strikingly, the German director doesn't take into consideration the wealth of material found at other sites in the Southern half of Italy, sites like Ruvo and the richness of its own tomb-groups or other impressive object groupings from the tombs at Gravina and Rutigliano in Peucetia, where contacts with both Greece and Etruscan painters clearly demonstrate tombs proportionately rich in burial goods. 

While not all the artefacts in the Berlin Tomb group appear in photographs in the now famous Medici Archive, four of them are, and point clearly towards the illicit nature of these finds.  

In this case, in three different groupings of Polaroids, specifically:
  • one grouping of fifteen photographs, 
  • one grouping of six photographs,
  • and one grouping of two photographs. 
All three sets of images depict artefacts now in the Altes Museum in various stages of restoration, the most important of which is the exceptional krater by the Darius Painter.

Giacomo Medici archive photos of looted artefacts
presently on display at the Altes Museum

While not all of the Apulian artefacts have a "smoking gun" looter photo, the names attached to this transaction are the same, and have been problematic in the past. 

The former head of archaeology at Geneva Museum, Jacques Chamay had previously announced that his research had begun after he had examined a fragment of one of the vases in the Cramer family’s old library, though in tonight's program, reached by phone, he had nothing to say. 

Discounting the judicially soft, but diplomatically polite, cultural diplomacy negotiations as "informal", which up until January had been the preferred approach of the Carabinieri and the Procura of Foggia,  Dr. Maischberger at the Altes Museum remarked that the European confiscation request was the first time the museum had been formally asked to give back the vases.  In this instance, it seems the museum decided the Italian's less stick, more carrot approach meant they weren't serious or that a decision could be avoided?  In either case, asking nicely didn't incentivise or compel the museum's management towards restitution because only 4 of the disputed artefacts have definitive proof of looting photos seized from Giacomo Medici's storage facility on the fourth floor of the Ports Francs & Entrep么ts de Gen猫ve, specifically Corridor 17, Room 23, on the 13th of September 1995.   

Giacomo Medici at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

During the Italian Spotlight news broadcast, Italians also heard from someone at the heart of Italy's illicit art market and the original holder of the Medici Polaroids, Giacomo Medici himself. 

Interviewed on camera for the first time, by investigative journalist Raffaella Cosentino, the former antiquities dealer seemed both soundly arrogant and at times cagy, admitting little even under direct questioning.  He avoided answering tough questions and instead preferred to underscore that he had served his time and paid his fines.  He also reminded his interviewer that in some instances the judicial process did not prove conclusively he had committed certain crimes.  

While Medici matter of factly talked about the seven boxes of photographs returned to him at the closure of his court case, he skipped over the fact that these images  represent the massive corpus of some 4000 artefacts that he handled during his years as an antiquities dealer.  He also failed to mention that he cultivated contacts among Italy's impoverished tombaroli, other wealthy corrupt dealers, Museum directors and conservators, who all turned a blind eye to the less than pristine origins of his wares.  Instead he preferred to mention loopholes or that he sold his antiquities of Switzerland, because Italy had rules against selling objects illicitly excavated. 

For what it is worth, and as a reminder, on 13 December 2004 Giacomo Medici was charged with receiving stolen goods, illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic via the Tribunal of Rome. The judge found that more than 95% of Medici’s antiquities—both those found in his Geneva warehouse as well as those depicted in the 4,000 seized photographs— were looted from Italy. Therefore, concerning the 3,800 antiquities recovered from the Geneva warehouse, the judge ordered the confiscation of approximately 3,400. Of the 400 that were not confiscated, 258 were returned to Switzerland: 179 because they had been looted in Greece, from sites on Paros, Crete, and the mainland (and, therefore, not subject to Italian law), and 79 because they were not authentic (and, therefore, were not the subject of the criminal investigation). For fewer than 150 of the 3,800 hundred antiquities—3.9% of his collection—did Medici provide any prior provenance.

On 15 July 2009 the Italian Appellate Court affirmed Medici's convictions for receiving stolen goods and conspiracy relating to the illicit trafficking of antiquities.  The affirmed a sentence of eight years of imprisonment alongside a €10 million fine, while the final count, for trafficking, was eliminated due to the expiry of the statute of limitations. 

Despite appealing the Appellate Court's ruling via Italy's Court of Cassation, on 7 December 2011 Giacomo Medici's final appeal was rejected.   Born in 1938 and already a senior citizen by that point, he was allowed to serve his judicial punishment primarily on house arrest at his villa in Santa Marinella, shortened by time off for good behaviour. 

By:  Lynda Albertson