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May 28, 2015

Associated Press: Rome ceremony welcomes return of looted art recovered from museums and auction houses in the United States

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Nicole Winfield reported for The Associated Press on May 26th about the ceremony in Rome where American officials returned stolen art to Carabinieri officials (Rome: US returns 25 looted artifacts to Italy; Vases, frescoes):
The items returned Tuesday were either spontaneously turned over to U.S. authorities or seized by police after investigators noticed them in Christie's and Sotheby's auction catalogues, gallery listings, or as a result of customs searches, court cases or tips. One 17th-century Venetian cannon was seized by Boston border patrol agents as it was being smuggled from Egypt to the U.S. inside construction equipment, police said. 
U.S. Ambassador John Phillips joined Italy's carabinieri art police to show off the haul. It included Etruscan vases from the Toledo Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 17th-century botany books from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a manuscript from the 1500s stolen from the Turin archdiocese in 1990 that ended up listed in the University of South Florida's special collections. 
Winfield reported police assertions that many of the objects had allegedly reached the market through  "Italian dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, both convicted of trafficking in plundered Roman artifacts." You may read more about Medici's activities in the 2007 nonfiction book, The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini. (Watson spoke at ARCA's art crime conference in Amelia in 2011).

Here's a link to a 2012 ARCA Blog post by ARCA CEO Lynda Albertson on the 90 formerly looted objects displayed at the Villa Giulia in Rome that had also been returned (with an explanation about the history of the Etruscan black-figure kelps attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop).

Read more here:

May 19, 2015

Ex-Art: a review of the Salvage Art Institute’s "No Longer Art" exhibit

By Hal Johnson, 2014 ARCA student and DNA Consultant


This fateful declaration greets visitors at the door to No Longer Art, an exhibit presented by the Salvage Art Institute (SAI) and Columbia University with the cooperation of AXA Art. In fact, the exhibit wouldn’t even be possible without the help of the insurance firm AXA because every piece on display is the remnant of an insurance claim. SAI, a non-profit organization, has accumulated a collection of damaged artworks deemed total losses by AXA after owner's claims are paid. The objects themselves are then consigned to a sort of purgatory by the insurer. Physically speaking they are still sculptures, drawings, photographs and painting; but their status as "art" has been officially revoked.

Or has it …? How was this exhibit like and yet unlike viewing “real” art? The show space itself is a small meeting room at the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Dozens of ex-artworks cluttered the room on wheeled carts as if they had been pulled directly from storage. But this is not careless curation. Each numbered piece comes with corresponding documentation of the original insurance claim (with specific details appropriately redacted) in  booklets mounted on small shelves against the walls of the room. I found myself trying to match up claims with the carts that had been shuffled around by previous visitors. The stories of damage and destruction are on display as much as the objects themselves. Unlike the shattered “Balloon Dog” by Jeff Koons, some damage (as described) wasn't readily apparent to me. More than once I had to look hard for it -- I had no luck spotting the "mold contamination" on one drawing.

Viewers can handle everything on display which was definitely the best part of the experience. "When else will you touch a Jeff Koons?" said a visitor as she and her friend attempted to fit the broken pieces of shiny red ceramic back in place. A certain reverence has been removed by no longer calling these objects "art" and declaring them void of all monetary value. This change carries with it an immunity to further harm. I ran my hand across a graphite/paper diptych by Linda Bond and came up with smudged fingers. I would never do such a thing in a traditional gallery or museum! And yet being able to touch this “stuff” that was made by accomplished, even famous, artists somehow made them seem more real. I didn’t revere these objects but still respected them and their creators.

It’s one thing to damage an artwork irreparably. To actually rescind an object’s identity as "art" requires some clever wordplay. An exhibit like this comes with its share of rhetoric. According to SAI, “the signature of the adjuster meets and cancels the signature of the artist.” “Salvage art,” “total loss” and “transformation” are a few more tools in their lexicon. In her Chicago Tribune review, columnist Lori Waxman perceives the salvaged art as "invisible" pieces "hidden in plain sight".

I felt like I had walked into an haute version of the Island of Misfit Toys. Rather than cast their collection as misfit art, SAI chose to curate No Longer Art with empowering rhetoric – freedom! Through damage and destruction, these pieces have been “liberated from the obligation of perpetual valuation and exchangeability.” The mercurial art market is implied to be a source of oppression. And that cluttered, moveable layout? It is an intentional statement of democracy – no art historical hierarchy or classification system governs this exhibit. The order of the pieces can be changed at will by the viewers themselves.

SAI is actively developing plans for a permanent exhibit space in New York City. In the meantime, No Longer Art is open at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and runs through June 26, 2015. The University of Chicago will present a special symposium in conjunction with the exhibit on June 5 from 3-6 pm. The event is called Salvage Art 2.1 (2.0 took place last month) and will be led by Dr. Christine Mehring, chair of the university’s Art History Department.

May 9, 2015

Art Restitution: Van Dyck’s Triple Portrait of King Charles I stolen from Castle Kronberg during World War II by American servicemen to be returned to Frankfurt

From The New York Times: Brandon Thibodeaux's photo of
King Charles I in Three Positions
by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The New York Times’ Tom Mashberg is reporting the return of five artworks, originally brought by US servicemen back to the United States after World War II, to the Anhaltische Gemäldegaleriem, in Dessau. Included in the five works is one described as “an unattributed copy of a triple portrait of King Charles I of England, originally painted by Anthony van Dyck in 1636 to help Bernini create a sculpture of the king”. Mashberg reports that this work was stolen from Castle Kronberg outside Frankfurt, and was being returned by:
“Michael R. Holland, a retired house builder from Montana, who said he found them in the safe deposit box of his aunt, Margaret I. Reeb, after her death. A note in the box from Mrs. Reeb, a member of the Women’s Army Corps who had served in Germany, said she bought them there just after the war. Family lore, Mr. Holland said, has it that Mrs. Reeb, who died in 2005 and was a wartime acquaintance of Eleanor Roosevelt, bought the works from American soldiers who approached her in a Nuremberg hotel for some quick cash.”
The story caught my eye because the original painting, which is now in the UK’s Royal Collection  has a fascinating story all of its own:

Sir Athony van Dyck (1599-1641) - Charles I (1600-1649)
The Royal Art Collection, oil on canvas
Queen's Drawing Room, Windsor Castle
In the early 1630s, King Charles I was busy cementing his place as omnipotent English monarch. He had been crowned King of England in a sumptuous ceremony, and in June 1633 he was likewise crowned King of Scotland. His queen -- a quiet but persistently devout Catholic -- Henrietta Maria, so memorably portrayed by Van Dyck in such overtly political family portraits as The Great Place and in intimately affectionate portraits such as his Charles I and Henrietta Maria, was carefully trying to strengthen ties between England and Rome, and to prepare the ground for the arrival in London of the first Papal envoy since Henry VIII’s time.

As so often happened during Charles’s reign, the delicate diplomatic dance was executed, in part, by artistic means. In mid 1635, Charles and his queen commissioned Van Eyck, now firmly ensconced as Charles’ favourite painter, to prepare a portrait that they would send to Pope Urban VIII in Rome. Thus would then able the Pope to commission his own favourite sculptor, Gianlorenzo Bernini (memorably labelled by Robert Hughes as the “marble megaphone of the Renaissance”), to carve a life-size bust of Charles, which the Pope would then give as a gift to Queen Henrietta Maria, symbolizing (so the Pontiff hoped) closer ties and perhaps heralding the ultimate submission of the English Crown to the throne of St Peters.

Drawing inspiration from Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Man in Three Positions, then in the Royal Collection (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Van Eyck executed the sublime triple portrait of King Charles, both embodying his character and pensive but unshakeable hope for the future, and giving Bernini everything he needed to create his marble bust.

The Portrait was sent to Rome. Bernini wove his sculptural magic. The result arrived back in England in the summer of 1637, but not without significant travails and perils: the bust was packed into a wooden case, and one Thomas Chambers spent three remarkable months bringing it across Europe on boats, horses and mules, besting pirates, robbers and corrupt border guards en route.

It received a rapturous welcome when it was unpacked, and drew a promise from Queen Henrietta Maria that a fabulous diamond ring would immediately be sent to the Pope’s nephew, and which would end up being given to Bernini himself. Suspicious and opportunistic Puritans encouraged a forlorn and probably spurious rumor that the bust was stained, and would only become pure when Charles converted to Catholicism. Much later, an opportunistic broker who had profited as Charles acquired his magnificent collection, but who was then keen to rewrite history and curry favour with the Puritans, invented a fantastical prediction of the coming execution, by the bust being stained with miraculous blood:
“ … his own statue graved in Marble, which was newly brought from Rome … being set forth three drops of blood fell on the face of it … though the stains of the same could never be gotten off since.”
In the meantime, and despite any such divine imperfections or portents, Charles was delighted with the bust, especially given that it was created by the Pope’s favoured sculptor, who would otherwise have been inaccessible to the increasingly artistically astute and sophisticated but still resolutely Protestant, Charles.

And then it all came crashing down.

On a chilly January morning in 1649, and wearing two shirts so that any shivers brought on by the cold would not be mistaken for fearful trembling, Charles was executed, under authority of a Death warrant signed by the 59 men who would become known to history as the Regicides. It is unclear whether the irony of the execution taking place outside The Banqueting House in London, whose ceiling was (and is) adorned by magnificent, and politically powerful, paintings by Rubens commissioned by Charles over a decade earlier, was noted at the time.

Following his death, the Commonwealth set about valuing and selling off “the Late King’s goods” to raise funds for a severely cash-strapped Treasury. And amongst the art works sold during a chaotic, corrupt and ultimately largely unsuccessful asset sale process, was Bernini’s bust. By 1651 it was in a slightly down-at-the-heel and crowded impromptu dealership owned by one Emmanuel de Critz, one of many that sprung up all over London as the King’s art flooded onto the newly created, and never before seen, open art market. “The King’s head in white marble done by Bernino at Rome” was on display in a cramped house in Austin Friars, with a price tag of £400.

That asking price must have been too high. In May 1660, following the unforeseeable (in 1651) lurch of history that saw Charles II restored to the English Throne following years spent wandering Europe in beggarly exile after his defeat in battle by Oliver Cromwell in September 1651, Charles II set about swiftly and ruthlessly reclaiming his father’s art. In a staggeringly audacious lie, de Critz petitioned the new King for back pay of £4000 and, amazingly, £1200 for costs incurred in acquiring and looking after the late King’s art, including the Bernini bust. History does not record what response this petition triggered. De Critz himself died of the plague in 1665.

On 5 January 1698, the novelist and diarist John Evelyn noted in his diary: “Whitehall burnt! Nothing but walls and ruins left.”

That day the bulk of what had been the largest palace in Europe, exceeding both Versailles and the Vatican in size, and at its zenith, comprising 1500 rooms, was destroyed. Only the Banqueting Hall remains more or less intact, but Bernini’s Bust of Charles 1 disappeared.

As for the portrait? Bernini kept hold of it, but eventually it ended up back in the Royal Collection, returning to the fold in 1822. The Royal collection’s Provenance Statement records:
Painted for Bernini about 1637 from which he was to execute a bust and sent to Rome. Collections: Bernini family; Mr Irvine: Walsh Porter; Mr Wells. Purchased by George IV in 1822 from Mr Wells for 1000 guineas. 
Judge Arthur Tompkins of New Zealand will return to Amelia this summer to teach "Art in War" for ARCA's 2015 Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

May 3, 2015

ARCA's Annual 2015 Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference in Italy - Confirmed Speakers Announcement

The Association for Research into Crimes against Art  (ARCA) will be hosting its 7th annual interdisciplinary Art Crime conference in Amelia, Italy the weekend of June 26-28, 2015. 

Providing an arena for intellectual and professional exchange, this annual art crime conference highlights the nonprofit’s mission and serves as a forum that aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of the protection of art and heritage worldwide. Bringing together international scholars, law enforcement experts, art professionals, the general public and participants in ARCA’s postgraduate certificate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, attendees will have the opportunity to examine contemporary issues of common concern in this important field.

Held in the beautiful town of Amelia (Umbria), the seat of ARCA’s Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection. The conference will include multidisciplinary panel sessions, key note speakers, a Friday evening ice-breaker cocktail reception and an awards dinner on Saturday evening — honoring the 2015 recipients of ARCA’s annual award for outstanding scholarship and professional dedication to the protection and recovery of cultural heritage.

This events opens with an optional icebreaker cocktail on Friday, June 26th at the Palazzo Farrattini. For the first time in the conference's history the event will cover two full days of speakers from Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28, 2015 at the Sala Boccarini, inside the cloister of the Biblioteca Comunale L.Lama adjacent to the Museo Civico Archeologico e Pinacoteca “Edilberto Rosa” in Amelia, Italy. Sessions begin promptly at 9:00 am, with breaks for coffee and optional Saturday and Sunday lunches as well as an optional Italian slow food dinner Saturday evening.

The 2015 conference is open to the public and all are welcome to attend. Registration for the conference is $75 for Saturday’s sessions and $25 for Sunday’s sessions. To reserve a placement for the each day’s speaking sessions, please register at the event’s Eventbrite page here.

Fees for optional networking meals and activities are payable at registration check-in at the venue.

Once registered, attendees will receive an email in March with information on directions to and lodging in Amelia as well as further details on the costs for the optional networking events planned.

Questions about this conference can be emailed to:   italy.conference (at) 

The annual award winners for previous years have been:

Art Policing, Recovery, Protection and Security

Past winners: Vernon Rapley (2009), Francesco Rutelli (2009), Charlie Hill (2010), Dick Drent (2010), Paolo Giorgio Ferri (2011), Lord Colin Renfrew (2011), Stuttgart Detective Ernst Schöller (2012), Karl von Habsburg and Dr. Joris Kila (Jointly – 2012), Sharon Cohen Levin (2013), Christos Tsirogiannis (2013), Daniel Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini (Jointly – 2014)

Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Excellence in Art Crime Scholarship

Past winners:  Norman Palmer (2009), Larry Rothfield (2010), Neil Brodie (2011), Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino (Jointly – 2012), Duncan Chappell (2013), Simon Mackenzie (2014)

Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art Award

Past winners: Carabinieri TPC collectively (2009), Howard Spiegler (2010), John Merryman (2011), Dr. George H. O. Abungu (2012), Blanca Niño Norton (2013), Anne Webber (2014) 

The list of 2015 award nominees will be posted to the ARCA blog later this week.  

Confirmed Topics and Presenters for this year's conference include...

“So How Did We Get Here? Trying to Understand the Reasons Behind the Unprecedented Destruction of Archaeological Heritage"
Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly , MA Archaeology, MA Journalism
Biladi: Heritage for Peace Building (Lebanese N,G.O)

“Activities and Tools of INTERPOL’s Works of Art Unit in the Fight Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property”
Françoise Bortolotti, Criminal Intelligence Officer
INTERPOL General Secretariat (Lyon, France), Sub-Directorate - Drugs and Organized Crime - Works of Art Unit

“One Culture, Two Systems : Changing Attitudes to Cultural Heritage Protection and Illicit Smuggling in Hong Kong and China”
Toby Bull, MSc.,
Founder, TrackArt – Art Risk Consultancy, and
Steven Gallagher, Barrister
Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

“Connoisseurship in a Globalized Art Market: Reconciling the Conflict Between Artistic and Economic Values”
Clare Diamond, PhD., candidate
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

“Mediation, as an Alternative to the Court for Resolution of Art and Cultural Heritage Disputes”
Pierfrancesco C. Fasano, Attorney-at-Law
FASANO – Avvocati
Ivett Paulovics, Attorney-at-Law
FASANO – Avvocati

“EU = 28 Countries + 28 Legislations = 1 Million Problems"
Martin Finkelnberg, Head of the Art and Antique Crime Unit of the Netherlands
Dutch National Police

“Protecting China’s Archaeological Artefacts Against Looting and Illicit Art Trafficking”
Stefan Gruber, PhD.,
Associate Professor, Kyoto University

“A ‘Vital Source of Funding': Conflict Antiquities in the Syrian Civil War”
Sam Hardy, DPhil Law Studies 
American University of Rome

“Art Fraud in Germany or How Criminals Become Celebrities”
Saskia Hufnagel, PhD., Accredited Specialist in Criminal Law
Queen Mary University of London

“Siena, Dunedin, Rome: the Tale of Five Macchiaioli School Paintings”
Penelope Jackson, M.Phil
Trustee of the NZ Art Crime Research Trust

“Dealer Conversion of Consigned Art: When Drugs and Greed Make the Art Disappear"
Thomas R. Kline, J.D.
Of Counsel Andrews Kurth, LLP and Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University
Dorit Straus
Fine art Insurance Expert and ARCA Lecturer
Victor Wiener, Ph.D.,
Victor Wiener Associates, LLC, Adjunct Assistant Professor, New York University

“Give and Take: Museum Professionals’ Attitudes and Ethics Toward the Acquisition and Repatriation of West African Cultural Objects”
Meg Lambert, PhD Candidate
University of Glasgow

“A Collection of Thefts: What One Museum's Responses to Five Incidents Can Teach Us About Ideal Resolution"
Katherine Luer, ARCA alumna and future MLS graduate
Independent Researcher

“Opining on the Authentic"
Philippa Malas, Barrister, England and Wales
Law Lecturer, University of Glasgow and author of the MSc Art, Law and Business at Christie's Education, London

“The Opaque Market of Egyptian Papyri in a Globalised Context: Sellers, Buyers, Prices and the Role of Academics”
Roberta Mazza, Dr
Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Manchester

The “PSYCHE” project,the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and the Italian stolen W.O.A. database “Leonardo”
Salvatore Rapicavoli, Deputy Commander 
Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale

“Uncovering the Illicit Traffic of Russian Ancient Icons”
Laure Coupillaud Szustakowski, PhD Candidate
Chief Operating Officer at CAPABILIS

“Perspectives on Crime and Crime Control Policy from the Trafficking Culture Project”
Neil Brodie, PhD
Simon Mackenzie, PhD
Donna Yates, PhD
Trafficking Culture, SCCJR, University of Glasgow

“Sentencing the Art Thief: Deterrence, Responsibility, Protection, Reparation and Restoration - Uneasy Bedfellows in a Courtroom?"
Arthur Tompkins, Judge
New Zealand Ministry of Justice

“Discovering and Visualising the Criminological Value of The Medici Conspiracy”
Christos Tsirogiannis, PhD.,
Research Assistant, Trafficking Culture project, University of Glasgow

“Art CSI: When Science Solves the Puzzle of Forgery. The Case Study "Vase of Flowers", Painting Attributed to Filippo De Pisis (1896-1956)”
Lisa, Volpe, PhD., 
Research Fellow, Conservator Scientist, TekneHub - University of Ferrara

“Libya and Heritage Protection in the Absence of Security”
Hafed Walda, PhD.,
Research Fellow. King’s College London
Pending Deputy Ambassador to the permanent Libyan delegation at UNESCO

“Art Crime in Relation to Museum Security in the United States: A Survey of Recent Security Measures and Criminal Trends Within Accredited Art Museums”
Christine A. Weirich, PhD Candidate
School of Social and Political Science University of Glasgow

(please watch this space as a few key speakers are still confirming their travel and presentation titles).