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October 6, 2011

Top Half of Turkey's Herakles Sent from Boston's MFA to Istanbul in Prime Minister's Private Jet

Özgen Acar publishes an article in one of Turkey's largest newspapers on a subject he's covered for decades.
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The rumors began last July that Boston's Museum of Fine Arts had agreed to return the top half of 'Weary Herakles' to Turkey, but the official announcement did not come until September and within a few days the Roman marble was enroute to Turkey on the Prime Minister's private jet.

Geoff Edgers, reporter for Boston's Globe, reported from Antalya on July 17th in "Making 'Herakles' whole after all these years" that after 20 years of denials the Boston museum would return the top half of the 1,800 year-old statue to Turkey.  Malcolm Bell, a University of Virginia professor quoted in the article, was also mentioned in "Chasing Aphrodite," the nonfiction book by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino.  Dr. Bell was director of the archaeological site in Morgantina in Sicily from where the 'Aphrodite' statue recently returned from the Getty.

The person who emailed me the link to Edgers' online article was Özgen Acar, the Turkish journalist who has chased down the Lydian Hoard and the Weary Herakles for decades (as featured in Sharon Waxman's book Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World).

I had met Mr. Acar in Ankara in July 2010 and he had given me copies of many of his articles, including "Turkey's War on the Illicit Antiquities Trade" (Archaeology, March/April 1995) and "The Turkish Connection: An Investigative Report on the Smuggling of Classical Antiquities" (Connoisseur, 1990). I asked Mr. Acar via email then for his response which was swift and passionate:
I’m very happy to learn that, following my discovery of the stolen Weary Heracles and related articles in 1990, yet another part of Turkey's historical heritage will be returned to Turkey. 
When my story was first published by Connoisseur Magazine, Cornelius Vermeule III [curator at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts], had made fun of me in his interview in the New York Times
He had said, "How can a statue have two navels?" 
He also said, that there were many Roman copies of the same type of Weary Heracles.
He added that the upper section was in the market in the mid 1950’s.
He lied twice.
 A) He had come to see the bottom piece in Antalya as a tourist; he knew the both pieces very well.
 B) He knew that the upper part had been brought to the Shelby White and Leon Levy couple in the early 1980’s.
I am not an archeologist but an investigative journalist. As the result of my investigation for many years, “The Lydian Hoard” (King Croesus Treasure), “The Elmali Hoard” (The Hoard of the Century) and many treasures were returned to Turkey.
Foreign collectors and museum officials have to respect the historical, cultural and religious heritage of every country. They belong, not only to Turkey, but to all mankind. History is beautiful where it belongs.
Mr. Acar has written about the theft of illicit antiquities out of Turkey for decades, identifying routes, naming individuals involved in the transactions, and how items were shipped and sold, including tying operators with Robert Hecht, an American antiquities dealer on trial in Italy on charges of conspiring to traffic in looted artifacts (associated with the sale of the Euphronios krater to the Met which was returned to Italy in 2009).

In 1995, Acar wrote of the archaeological museum in Antalya on Turkey's Mediterranean coast which had on display the lower half of the statue of Herakles -- "the upper half is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" ("Turkey's War on the Illicit Antiquities Trade").  The museum also included a 'reassembled sarcophagus' which had had a piece returned by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu 'when Turkish archaeologists identified it as stolen'.  Another sarcophagus had been displayed at the Brooklyn Museum until it was returned to Turkey in 1994.

'Weary Herakles', which Acar wrote about in the same article in Archaeology magazine in 1995, is dated 170-192 AD and 'shows the tired hero leaning on his club.' The upper half of the statue was jointly owned by Leon Levy and Shelby White, New York collectors, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This is what Acar wrote then:
"In 1980 Jale Inan, director of excavations at the ancient city of Perge, northeast of Antalya, heard rumors that something important had been stolen from the site.  Later that summer, while excavating a Roman villa, Inan discovered the bottom half of the Herakles statue, as well as several other sculptures that were complete.  By 1981 the top half of the Herakles had been acquired by Levy, who gave a half-interest in the sculpture to the Boston museum.  The statue was displayed at the Metropolitan from late 1990 through early 1991 in an exhibition of White and Levy's collection titled Glories of the Past.  Turkey learned of the Levy-White Herakles from the exhibition catalogue (for which Boston's curator Cornelius Vermeule had written an entry on the statue) and from a photograph that was faxed to the Antalya Museum.  Articles in Connoisseur magazine and The New York Times showed the upper and lower halves of the statue photographically rejoined."
Although the two halves were shown to fit as early as 1995, the burden of proof was placed on Turkey to prove that the top half of Herakles had been stolen.

If you would like to read more about the return of Herakles to Turkey, you may find articles in English written here and here in Hürryet Daily News.