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June 8, 2014

ARCA's 2014 Writer in Residence: Forensic Archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis writing about the Symes-Michaelides archive

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis will be ARCA's 2014 Writer in Residence in Amelia, Italy from June 27th through August 9, 2014.

Each year, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art honors distinguished and emerging writers, specializing in art crime and cultural heritage preservation, by inviting them to spend a portion of their summer with us working on a book or manuscript project. Designed to promote critical and reflective writing, the Amelia Writer in Residence Program reflects ARCA’s belief that the basis for any critical and comprehensive writing involves the opportunity for contemplation, research, collaboration and support.

Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek forensic archaeologist, studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens. He worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008). He was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr. Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Dr. Tsirogiannis explained his work, Unravelling the hidden market of illicit antiquities: The Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides network and its international implications:
This study is the first academic approach to an immense and incriminating body of material: the confiscated photographic archive of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides, the top antiquities dealers in the world until 1999. I show how this archive interacts with the archives previously confiscated from the dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Forensic research by Italian and Greek police authorities on those archives first proved that - from at least 1972 until 2006 - the antiquities market was based largely on looted and smuggled objects, controlled by an international network of looters, middlemen, dealers, auction houses, conservators, academics, museums and private collectors. During the last seven years, this situation has worsened, despite the convictions of Symes, Medici, Becchina and multiple repatriations of their looted and smuggled antiquities from North American museums, collectors and dealers to Italy. My PhD tackled this most recent period. 
The project of demonstrating the involvement of reputable institutions, companies and individuals in the illicit antiquities trade, as well as the corruption of the art market, is by its nature interdisciplinary; its results are important for the fields of archaeology, art history, criminology, politics and law. I brought to the PhD a unique combination of an academic background in archaeology and extensive work experience in the field. Following my undergraduate degree, I was employed for several years by the Greek ministry of Culture as an archaeologist before receiving an invitation to work on the exposure of the international illicit antiquities network with the Greek Police Art Squad. My specific interest in Symes-Michaelides comes from the fact that I participated in the police raid on their home on Schinousa, from where the archive was seized, and I was later the sole investigator of the contents, working as forensic archaeologist at the Greek Ministry of Justice. 
The PhD began with a historical review, and then surveyed the main members of the international illicit antiquities network (ch. 1). I systematically catalogued the contents of the Symes-Michaelides archive (ch. 2) and then outlined, with examples, the ways in which Symes traded with Medici and Becchina (ch. 3). The central chapter documents ways in which academics from reputable institutions were involved in ‘laundering’ this illicit material, via publications then used by museums and auction houses (ch. 4). In the last main chapter, I presented and analyzed a series of hitherto undiscovered cases of illicit antiquities in the antiquities market, mainly in auction houses since 2007. My conclusion drew out the wider picture (implications) from the network’s activities and suggested solutions towards different attitudes in antiquities trading, as well as fighting the antiquities trafficking. 
The project I would be concerned with as Writer-in-Residence this summer, therefore, is the transformation of the completed PhD into a book. As well as editing the text, I need to update the story of some individual case studies, and my description of the ways in which protagonists are selling artifacts. The PhD was about 77,000 words, plus three appendices of transcripts etc. and bibliography; I expect that the book would be c.100,000 words all told. I am currently putting together a book proposal to send to publishers in the next month; I hope that by July I would have a sense of what the publisher requires by way of editing and expansion. 
The ARCA Writer-in-Residence also offers me a rare opportunity to check the publications of auction houses, galleries, museums and private collections kept in libraries in Rome. These publications have proved valuable to forensic archaeologists Maurizio Pellegrini and Daniela Rizzo in the identification of dozens of antiquities from the same archives (Medici, Becchina, Symes) for the Italian state during the period 1995-2008. No library in Europe has a complete series of auction house -- and gallery -- publications, but I expect to add to my own catalogue from a systematic check in Rome, due to the recent successful repatriation claims of the Italian state.
 Dr. Tsirogiannis will also teach "Unravelling the Hidden Market of Illicit Antiquities: Lessons from Greece and Italy".