May 19, 2019

Soft diplomacy, righting past wrongs and the Toledo Museum of Art


Over the past 12 years, in a differing tactic from the "Getty Bronze" protracted court battle for restitution, Italy's Avvocatura dello Stato has sometimes negotiated for the return of its stolen archaeological past utilizing soft diplomacy as an alternative to the more time consuming pressure of courtroom trials and appeals.  Geared toward stimulating mutual cooperation and in the vein of resolving cultural patrimony conflicts when illicit antiquities traceable to the country are identified in museum collections, Italian authorities have opened dialog with museum management at involved institutions in the effort to find mutually acceptable resolutions that sidestep the need for oppositional court battles.   

In a tradition finessed by Francesco Rutelli, Italy's former Ministro dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali, the country's Avvocatura dello Stato, which represents and protects all economic and non economic interests of the State, works with museums to develop mutually-attractive accords which seek to remedy claims for looted antiquities.  These negotiations diplomatically address the sensitive issue of stolen, looted, and illegally exported acquisitions without subjecting museums to reputation damaging litigation and allow the State to achieve the return of cultural property while avoiding the uncertain outcome of a litigation on their ownership before a foreign court.

These collaborative negotiations are designed, not to strip a museum bare of its contested objects, but to undertake a careful collaborative approach to restitution in furtherance of “goodwill relationships” between source countries and foreign museums found to be holding illicit material. Equitable solutions, when agreed upon, have served to mediate past acquisition errors and have been carried out with important US museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, the Princeton University Art Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art and serve to strengthen the relationship between Italy and foreign museums in relation to future cooperative activities.

When consensus can be achieved, as was the case in 2006 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art signed an agreement in Rome to formalize the transfer of title to six important antiquities to Italy, long term loans can then be negotiated in the spirit of just collaboration.   Sometimes these agreements allow a contested object or objects to remain on display at the identified museum for a given period of time or provide for the loan of alternative objects "of equivalent beauty and importance to the objects being returned" so as not to decimate the museum's collection in return for an agreement of voluntary forfeiture and restitution of the looted antiquity in question.

This week, the thanks to just such an accord, the Toledo Museum of Art has announced that it has reached an agreement with the Italian authorities regarding a graceful 30 centimeter slip-decorated earthenware object, called a skyphos, or drinking vessel, which has been on view at the museum almost continuously since its purchase in 1982.  Etched in red against the a black background, this sophisticated antiquity was purchased for $90,000 with funds from the Edward Drummond Libbey Endowment and is decorated with the mythological story of the return of Hephaestus to Olympus riding a donkey and led by Dionysus.  The object dates to ca. 420 BCE  and is attributed to the Kleophon Painter.

Per the recent agreement with the Italian authorities, signed by Lorenzo D'Ascia, head of the legislative office of Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, and state lawyer in service with the State Attorney General, who presides over Italy's Committee for the Return of Cultural Assets, this skyphos will remain on loan with the Toledo Museum of Art for a period of four yearsAfter four years the museum's management may request a renewal of the loan or request the loan of an alternative object from the Italian authorities as part of a rotational cultural exchange which is spelled out in the terms of their mutual agreement.

In its published announcement the museum acknowledged that the provenance of the object was called into question publically in 2017 by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist affiliated with ARCA, on suspicion that the object had been looted and at some point illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909) "after which the Museum began an internal investigation and contacted the Italian authorities".

As mentioned in Tsirogiannis' academic article in ARCA's Journal of Art Crime "Nekyia: Museum ethics and the Toledo Museum of Art" the researcher recognized the Kleophon Painter skyphos from five images found within the dossier of photographs seized from Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  At the time of Tsirogiannis' identification, the museum's published provenance history indicated only that the object had once been part of a "private Swiss collection". 

Two images of the skyphos from the confiscated Medici archive.
Courtesy of the Journal Of Art Crime
Following several enquiries to the museum made by Tsirogiannis between March and April 2017, Dr. Adam Levine, Associate Director and Associate Curator for Ancient Art directed the researcher to the following limited collection history information for the skyphos:

Private Swiss Collection, n.d;
(Nicholas Koutoilakis, n.d.-1982);
Toledo Museum of Art (purchased from the above), 1982- 

The now dead collector/dealer Koutoulakis is a name that immediately raises suspicions to those who research antiquities trafficking as his name is well documented in connection with the purchase and sale of other works of ancient art which have been determined to have illicit origins.   In an alternate spelling, as Nicholas Goutoulakis, this individual was implicated on the handwritten organigram seized by the Italian Carabinieri in September 1995.  This document outlined key players in the illicit antiquities trade in Italy during the 1990s.

Koutoulakis activities have also been mentioned on this blog in connected with the provenance history of another illegally-traded antiquity and is referred to 15 times throughout “The Medici Conspiracy,” a 2007 book by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini which explores the roles of some of the most notorious bad actors in the world of ancient art.  One striking passage states that disgraced antiquities dealer Robin Symes confirmed that Koutoulakis was supplied by Giacomo Medici “since at Koutoulakis’ he had seen objects he’d previously seen at Medici’s.” (Page 198 : The Medici Conspiracy)

In this weeks announcement for the accord, the Toledo Museum of Art emphasized:


While this, two years in the making, cultural agreement should (rightly) be applauded as a positive step in the right direction in resolving Italy's ownership claim and in generating a positive stream of collaboration in a situation originating in controversy, it is just the first of many needed steps.  It is my hope that the administration at the Toledo Museum of Art will fully embrace and exercise its institutional responsibility to responsible acquisition, past and present, in the spirit of this cultural cooperation whether their acquisitions be by purchase, gift, bequest, or exchange.  

Doing the right thing starts with museums acknowledging the need to return contested objects directly identified by researchers which match irrefutable photographic evidence of looting. But this is just a small part of establishing and/or enforcing an ethical collection management policy.  Not all suspect antiquities found within this or other museums come with disparaging confiscated photographic evidence in the form of archival records of former traffickers.  Some objects, equally attributable to some of the same trafficking networks come simply with a list of unprovable claims of provenance and scant documentation substantiating prior ownership or licit exportation.  

It is these objects, the ones that do not pass the smell test, that must be rigorously and openly examined, to ensure their acquisition and accessioning is merit worthy, informed and defensible.  By addressing these "tween" objects, Toledo can truly earn international recognition by acting humanely, honourably and courageously in righting the wrongs of their past, and in doing so demonstrate a genuine commitment to their intention to preserve and safeguard material culture and addressing how museums have contributed to the phenomenon of the plunder. 

By Lynda Albertson

May 5, 2019

Highlights from "The Art of Saving Art: Fragments of Italian History"


In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Carabinieri Command for Cultural Heritage on May 3, 1969, the Palazzo del Quirinale will play host to a unique exhibition, "The Art of Saving Art: Fragments of Italian History" from today through July 14, 2019.   

This exhibition serves to highlight the work of the Carabinieri Corps in protecting and restituting works of art, as well as to emphasize the foresight of Italian authorities in their establishment of the world's first cultural heritage crime-fighting unit, one year prior to the establishment of the famous 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property.  


As the most active cultural heritage law enforcement division in the world, the Carabinieri TPC unit has grown from an initial team of 16 officers to approximately 270 officers today, working in fifteen field offices located in Ancona, Bari, Bologna, Cagliari, Cosenza , Florence, Genoa, Monza, Naples, Palermo, Perugia, Rome, Turin, Udine, Venice, plus a subsection in Siracusa.  Divided into three working units the “Archaeological Section”, the “Antiquities Section”, and the “Contemporary Art and Anti-Counterfeiting Section” each of the triad are tasked with preventing criminal actions involving works of art.  

The exhibit, curated by Francesco Buranelli, is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 until 16:00.  On display are some of the most important and story-worthy recoveries made by the squad during the last half century including: 

The Madonna of Senigallia, a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca which was stolen in February 1975 from the Ducal Palace in Urbino when thieves scaled the Palazzo's walls with the help of scaffolding and broke in through a window.   This artwork was later recovered after a year-long multi-country investigation which eventually lead the Carabinieri officers from Urbino to Rome and lastly to a hotel in Locarno, Switzerland.  As a result of their investigation four individuals from Italy, Germany and Switzerland were arrested and ultimately charged.

The Euphronios krater - This attic pottery masterpiece was trafficked out of Cerveteri and sold by Giacomo Medici and Robert Hecht Jr. to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for one million dollars in 1972.  Once defined by Thomas Hoving as “one of the ten greatest creations of the Western civilizations.” This  Greek vessel, which dates back to 515 B.C.E, was repatriated to Italy following a landmark agreement in February 2006 between the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Two years after the agreement was penned, the krater finally came home to Italy on January 15, 2008.

A Fourth-century BC sculptural group of two griffins attacking a fallen doe Pictured at left in a seized Polaroid photograph recovered by law enforcement authorities in a Geneva raid, this photograph depicts the now disgraced antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici standing alongside this important antiquity.   Plundered from a tomb near Ascoli Satriano, in Foggia, and photographed, freshly plundered, in the boot of a tomborolo's car, the sculpture was purchased by Giacomo Medici.  He in turn sold the griffins on to fellow antiquities dealers known to launder illicit art Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.  Symes and Michaelides then sold the artwork on to one of their many US clients, Maurice Tempelsman, who eventually negotiated a sale with the John P. Getty Museum.

Le Jardinier by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen on May 19, 1998 from Rome's prestigious Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna during an armed robbery just after the 10 pm closing time. This painting was recovered several months later, on July 5, 1998 at an apartment in the periphery of Rome.   Eight individuals were eventually charged and sentenced for their involvement in the museum's theft.

The Capitoline Triad, pictured at the top of this article, is a group of three deities who were worshipped in ancient Roman religion.  This famous triad was found by a well known tombarolo from Anguillara Sabazia named Pietro Casasanta who heavily worked, along with a squad of paid subordinates, (paying off locals to keep quiet) in the area of L'Inviolata from 1970 onward. 

Through informants, who were involved in the clandestine excavation, it was later determined that the Capitoline Triad was excavated in 1992 by Casasanta and two other accomplices, Moreno De Angelis and Carlo Alberto Chiozzi.  The trio had been digging in a pit near L'Inviolata alongside an ancient Roman wall belonging to either a temple or a patrician villa.  Casasanta then tried to shop the object to Edoardo Almagià, who passed on its purchase. 

Casasanta then brokered a deal via the now deceased Lugano dealer Mario Bruno who was to then act as the intermediary dealer to a then unnamed buyer who would eventually sell the object onward.  The piece was subsequently shipped to Switzerland in an anonymous van transported by two smugglers on Casasanta's payroll, Ermenegildo Foroni and Sergio Rossi.  Prior to that it had been hidden away in a warehouse for a furniture moving company called "Speedy International Transport".

Moreno De Angelis, unhappy with his cut, went to the Carabinieri of Castel di Guido and told the Station Commander about the find which is where Carabinieri Officer Roberto Lai's investigation got its starting point.  Moreno was later stopped near L'Inviolata with fragments in his car, that were matched the triad.  The carabinieri kept these details hidden during their investigation as they were concerned that the intermediaries might try and file down the sections of the triad if they knew there were known matching pieces of the triad which could tie them into the criminal conspiracy.

This video records a series of self serving interviews given by Casasanta where he actually points out the location of the find spot.


This exhibition includes many other other works of art not highlighted in this blog post for sake of brevity, each with their own fabulous story to tell.  They include works of art stolen from churches, museums, archaeological areas, libraries and archives.  So if you are in Rome this summer be sure to make some time to stop in.

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 24, 2019

4 of 6 individuals, believed to be tied to a Pink Panther operating cell, head to trail in the jewel heist at the Doge's Palace in Venice.


Following up on the museum jewel heist which occurred during the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition at the Doge's Palace in Venice in January 2018.   

On January 3, 2018 jewelry worth an estimated €2m (£1.7m) was stolen from a display case at the museum palace of the Doge of Venice during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery which occurred shortly after ten in the morning on the last day of the exhibition. Taken during the theft were a pair of pear-shaped 30.2-carat diamond earrings in a platinum setting along with an equally weighty 10 carat, grade D diamond and ruby pendant brooch.  Both items belonged to His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, who is the first cousin of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.  

According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, the Italian authorities had long suspected that the thieves behind the museum theft might have had inside help and were likely part of a criminal network made up of associates from the former Yugoslavia, sometimes referred to as "the Pink Panthers".  This network, working in small yet coordinated cells, are believed to be responsible for some 200+ robberies spanning 35 countries over the last two decades.  Some thefts, like that at the Doge's palace, have been discreet, 60-second affairs.  Others have been armed robberies or have involved automobiles being rammed into glass storefronts.  In total the thieves are believed to have made off with an estimated €500 million in jewels and gemstones, much of which has never been recovered.

But everyone knows that good police work sometimes requires patience. 

Following months of investigations by the mobile squad of the Venice Police Headquarters and the  Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, working alongside prosecutor Raffaele Incardona, six suspects were ultimately identified by the Italian authorities. Between November 7 and November 8, 2018 five of these men, including four Croatians and one Serb, were taken into custody in Croatia in a coordinated action involving Police Directorates in Zagreb and Istra based upon European arrest warrants issued for the suspect's related to their alleged involvement in the Venice museum theft. 

Five of those named by Italian authorities are believed to have visited the Doge's Palace in Venice on two test-run occasions prior to the actual theft.  Their first visit occurred on December 30, 2018 and their second on the day before the robbery.   Each time the team apparently tried to steal jewelry from the exhibition without success or were practicing in advance of the final event. 

Vinko Tomic
The brains behind the heist is purported to be 60-year-old Vinko Tomic, who goes by several other names, including Vinko Osmakčić and Juro Markelic.  No stranger to crime Tomic has already been connected with other million dollar hits.  Tomic has been implicated in the thefts of $1m worth of diamond watches in Honolulu, the heist of the $1m Millennium Necklace in Las Vegas, the filching of three rings, collectively worth £2m in London, and other high value jewel heists in Hong Kong, Monaco and Switzerland.  

When appearing in court in connection with one prior offense, Tomic made a statement to the presiding judge that he was a war veteran originally from the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina who was wounded in battle in 1995 and who fled, first to Croatia and later to Germany.  There,  unable to find work, he stated he eventually turned to a life of crime, though he managed to provide for his family and put his brother through school. 

For Italian law enforcement their biggest break in the case came as a result of a slip up on the part of the gang's leader.  According to chief prosecutor Bruno Cherchi, the Venice police chief Danilo Gagliardi, and Alessandro Giuliano, director of the Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, who spoke at a press conference on the investigation, officers identified a Facebook photo of Tomic wearing an identical ring to the one he was wearing when captured on CCTV footage at the Doge's Palace in Venice. 

Tomic's alleged accomplices to the Venice jewel theft are listed here:

Zvonko Grgić
Zvonko Grgić (age 43) whose now static Facebook profile lists him as an armed security contractor available for global security around the world. 

Želimir Grbavac
Želimir Grbavac, (age 48), who, according to Croatian news sources appears to have lived a discreet existence, operating an electrician business. 

Vladimir Đurkin (age 48), also Croatian.

and two Serbs, Dragan Mladenović (age 54) and Goran Perović (age 48).

Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were arrested on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 in Zagreb, while Đurkin was brought in for questioning in Istria. Mladenović was initially apprehended near the Serb-Croatian border and detained in Croatian police custody, only to escape while in police custody via a bathroom window on November 8, 2018.  How this happened while he was in police custody has been subject to controversy. 

On the basis of their European arrest warrants, three of the Croatians, Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were quickly transferred to Italy to stand trial. 

A month and a half after their arrest in Croatia, on December 23, 2019 Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac made their initial appearance in Italian court before preliminary investigations judge David Calabria and maintained their right to remain silent.  Vinko Tomic was represented by lawyers Guido Simonetti and Simone Zancani.  Zvonko Grgić was represented by lawyer Marina Ottaviani and Želimir Grbavac was represented by lawyer Mariarosa Cozza.  

Fighting his extradition, Vladimir Đurkin was finally transferred to the Italian authorities on February 8, 2019.  The presiding judge has ruled that all four defendants will remain in custody at the prison of Santa Maria Maggiore in Venice pending the outcome of their upcoming trial. 

Serbian Dragan Mladenović and the final identified accomplice, Goran Perović, are believed to be in Serbia where they are untouchable by a European Arrest Warrant, a Convention which governs extradition requests between the 28 member states that make up the European Union (EU).  With no agreement between Italy and Serbia on judicial cooperation, there seems little chance that these two remaining accomplices will be extradited to Italy to stand trial.

And His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's jewels? 

International insurers Lloyd's of London has indemnified the Al Thani Foundation, as the owner of the stolen brooch and earrings and has payed out a claim of 8 million and 250 thousand dollars making the firm the owners of the jewellery, should they be recovered.  As a result the insurers will likely become a civil party in the future trial of the alleged perpetrators.

Unfortunately the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" have never been found. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 16, 2019

A film about the king of counterfeiters, Forger Eric Hebborn

Photo of Eric Hebborn from his Facebook Page. 
By Lynda Albertson. 

Those who study art crime already know about the mysterious death, on a rainy morning in Rome, of the king of counterfeiters, art fraudster Eric Hebborn.   But was his death at the hands of the Mafia, poor drunken coordination, or, a lack of follow-up care at the hospital?  How the famous forger died has long been debated, despite evidence pointing clearly to the latter.  Splashed across art newspapers and major news outlets this weeks, articles are popping up about an upcoming ambitious TV drama that is set to highlight the famous con man and the suspicion of mafia involvement in his 1996 death in Trastevere. 

But just who is Eric Hebborn and how did he die?

Eric Hebborn was a wiley and talented artist, who got his first taste for paintings fraud creating pencil drawings of Augustus John based on a drawing of a child by Andrea Schiavone.  Plying his trade at important London galleries, once exposed he admitted to having created numerous fake works of art, some of which he passed off as Rubens, Breughel, Castiglione, Corot, Mantegna, Piranesi, Schiavone, and even van Dyck.  

Many of the works Hebborn created came from the study of known, extant paintings from famous artists which he then recreated, passing his own art off as preparatory drawings for already known and renowned paintings and artists.  Making a healthy living with his artful deception, Hebborn was ultimately undone when the London art firm Colnaghi realized that the Pierpont Morgan “Cossa” they had purchased from him turned out to be identical to the National Gallery’s “Sperandio”.   With a little more digging it turned out that the “Sperandio” too was obtained from Hebborn. 

At the time of his death in 1996, the by-then-retired con man was considered to be one of the world's most prolific, as well as mouthy, art forgers in history.  Bold even in self-admitted guilt, he expressed no regret for his actions.  

As if to poke the art world in its pompous eye, Hebborn celebrated his prowess by penning Il Manuale del Falsario, an amusing memoir written in Italian shortly before his death.  The book, later translated into English, spelled out for readers, in minute detail, the ways in which he had created works of art forensically indistinguishable from the masterworks of previous centuries.

In describing the motivation for writing the book Hebborn wrote: 

"I wrote this practical manual to satisfy many people eager to learn an art that, apparently, arouses considerable interest: that of forging paintings and drawings. Not a week goes by without a letter or a phone call from someone asking advice on how to create "new ancient works" and it is natural that I cannot answer them all personally. If these pages satisfy the requests of those enthusiasts, I can say that I have achieved my goal". 

Posthumously Hebborn is seen by art crime experts as an artist who failed to gain their own notoriety and who faked art works to ridicule the art world's self-inflated connoisseurship. When first unmasked in 1978 Hebborn was sarcastically quoted as saying “how expert can these experts be if they can’t tell one of my drawings.” And throughout his brief lifetime he seemed to draw unadulterated pleasure at exposing art experts as wishful dunces.  


ARCA Founder Noah Charney, in his book The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers elaborates that Hebborn delved increasingly into forgery, possibly in revenge specifically against the storied Colnaghi Gallery, believing that the firm had intentionally cheated him by buying his artworks on the cheap only to turn around and sell them for substantially higher figures.  Failing to gain recognition as an artist in his own right, despite winning prizes as a student at the Royal Academy Schools, Hebborn went on to successfully falsify works of art for decades.  By the time his handiwork was finally noticed, he had reportedly created upwards of 1000 artworks in a range of styles and periods from Giovanni Castiglione to David Hockney and sold his fabrications on through world-ranking galleries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 

The Forger's Death

Image capture of Eric Hebborn from the documentary
Eric Hebborn - Portrait of a Master Forger
Hebborn lived in Italy for more than 30 years, first in the bucolic medieval hilltop village of Anticoli Corrado, to the east of Rome, and toward the end of his life in a loft apartment in Trastevere.  His love life was stormy and his latent alcoholism well known among those who loved and or befriended him. 

Prior to his death, acquaintances acknowledged that his excessive drinking had already lead to at least one blackout, where he is known to have fallen, striking his head hard on an iron table.  With all the tell-tale signs of a high-bottom drunk, Hebborn paid little heed to well-meaning doctors and friends who were worried about his health and his burgeoning alcoholism and who acknowledged with increasing concern, the red patches blotching his face, his poor hygiene and his unkempt beard and attire.

On the night of January 9, 1996 Hebborn reportedly visited a local enoteca near his home, one that he frequented regularly.  The painter sat for a while and is said to have drunk a few glasses of red wine as was often his practice as a regular patron at the establishment.  As he departed, reportedly between 8:30 and 9 pm, he told the proprietor "I'm going to dinner" before walking out into the cool winter's night.   Some say he was with someone that evening though no one has ever come forward to admit who this individual might have been or if this recollection was accurate or not. 

On that January night, the evening was enveloped with rain and in the semi-darkness and downpour, law enforcement hypothesize that the forger may have stumbled on the street or perhaps passed out, overcome by alcohol he had consumed.  Hebborn struck his head hard on the pavement not far from the bronze statue dedicated to the Roman poet Trilussa, which gives his name to the small piazza near where Hebborn was found, along the Tiber river. 

The forger was discovered lying in the rain just after midnight the following morning.  Scruffily dressed in clothing soaked with rainwater and smelling of alcohol and old sweat, he did not appear to have been assaulted in an attempted robbery as his wallet and credit cards were found on his person.  Suspecting him to be a simple drunken street tramp, he was hoisted up with only a cursory look and transported eventually to San Giacomo Hospital to sober up.  

There Hebborn died from internal bleeding without waking up and without a medical examination or treatment as medical staff appeared to have overlooked his fractured skull as his hair was wet from the puddles of rain he was found laying in. 

Eric Hebborn with one of the greatest loves of his life,
the pup Emma. 
Twenty plus years after his post-mortem examination, the forger's life, and the events surrounding his squalid death, which likely occurred simply due to the general indifference of a hospital in Rome, still creates serve as the cinematic backdrop to a sad, but infinitely intriguing, story. 

April 11, 2019

The "Portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti," stolen 32 years ago from Palazzo Chigi, is finally home

Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo with Arch. Francesco Petrucci at Palazzo Chigi
On Wednesday, April 10th, in a formal restitution celebration, Lieutenant Angelo Giovanni Busciglio, Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo, and Deputy Brigadier Filippo Vassallo, of the Carabinieri Nucleus for the Protection of Cultural Heritage - Palermo, were honoured for their recovery efforts during a ceremony held at Palazzo Chigi, in the historic center of Ariccia.

Recovered Portrait if Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti, Palazzo Chigi - 10 April 2019
The unit was directly responsible for the discovery and return of an oil-on-canvas portrait depicting Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti (1649-1718), the wife of marchese Cesare Baldinotti, which once hung in the palace's stanza delle belle and had been stolen from the historic palazzo 32 years ago, along with 20 other works of art.  Portraiture of well bred ladies, those that made up the so-called galleria delle belle or cabinets des dames, were leitmotiv in the furnishing of noble residences during the seventeenth century.

Federico Fellini, immortalized next to
the portrait in Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle".
The painting is attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet, a Flemish portrait painter from the Baroque period who is known for his portraits. The artist had an international career, which brought him to both Italy and France where he made portraits for members of elite families and appears to be strikingly similar to another portrait of the Marchioness which likely helped with the unsigned artwork's attribution and identification.  After training in Paris, Voet spent time in Rome, then Florence, and lastly Turin before returning, first to Antwerp in 1684 and later in 1686, to Paris where he was called as a painter of the French court. The Marchioness was the daughter of Felice Angelo Ghezzi, the Duke of Carpignano and Baron Zullino. On April 17, 1667, she married the Marquis Cesare Baldinotti di Pistoia (1636-1728) who was the Duke of Pescorocchiano.

Matching portraits of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti
The painting was located on the art market by Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo of the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) in Palermo in the sales inventory of an antiques dealer in Palermo.  During a series of investigative procedures, as well as a crosscheck of records within the Carabinieri Leonardo Stolen Art database, and with architect Francesco Petrucci, who is the conservator of works of art at Palazzo Chigi, the law enforcement officer's match was validated and the antiquarian questioned by the Carabinieri.   Giving an implausible answer as to how and where he had acquired the stolen painting and unable to substantiate a legitimate claim to the portrait, the painting was seized in the Autumn of 2018.

Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle" then

During their investigations the Carabinieri squad in Sicily also identified a second individual from Marsala, who along with the antiquarian was referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Palermo where both have been denounced for receiving stolen goods.

Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle" now

As a painter Voet was highly sought after and had numerous followers and imitators, many who copied his style of portraiture of well bred ladies.

April 6, 2019

Interview with Aubrey Catrone, ARCA's 2018 Program Assistant

By Edgar Tijhuis

In 2019, the ARCA program will be held from May 31 through August 15, 2019 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months up to the start of the program, a number of this years professors is as well as other staff of ARCA will interviewed. This time I speak with Aubrey Catrone, who served as ARCA's program assistant for the 2018 program.

Can you tell us something about your background?

Can you tell us something about your background? Growing up in Boston, in the shadow of the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist, I have always had a strong passion for the intersection of art, history, and crime. It is this enduring multidisciplinary approach to the art world that has helped shape my career and development as a provenance researcher. From an academic standpoint, I predominantly focused on the history of the Second World War, the French language, art crime, and art history. When I first attended the ARCA Postgraduate Program, it helped broaden my knowledge of the art market. It also further piqued my interest regarding the restitution of art looted in France during the Second World War. My MA in History of Art from University College London enabled me to explore my relationship with the history of art objects. In between what has undoubtedly been thousands of trips to the library, I have worked in art galleries and with art advisories, private collectors, non-profits, and academics. 

You have been ARCA's program assistant in the 2018. Can you tell us about your experiences in this role in Amelia?

Having stayed in Amelia as a participant and an alumna prior to this summer, working as the Program Assistant was definitely quite a shift in my experience with ARCA and Amelia in general. Serving as a critical point of contact for visitors, professors and students meant that I became far more acquainted with the city than I had been before. I can tell you the perfect route to take to get to where you need to go on festival days. I know which bar has the best WiFi. And, I’ve learned enough Italian to confidently travel throughout the countryside on my own. 

In anticipation of a summer in Italy, what do you recommend for participants to prepare for a summer of study in a small town? 

Patience. Amelia is an old city that enchants with its many charms but also infuriates you. Don’t panic when the internet cuts out and a project is due. In the fast-paced, electronically dominated society that we live in, remember to take a breath, smell the sunflowers, and enjoy the opportunity to unplug for a bit. Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO, also reminds participants that their largest retrievable databases are their professors as well as their fellow program participants. These sources can be accessed without the need for gigabyte data plans or modern technological accoutrements.

What makes the yearly ARCA PG Cert program unique? 

It is one of the only places in the world where postgraduate students of all ages can come to learn from and interact with world-renowned experts in the field of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Unlike programs in larger cities such as Rome, where teachers and students alike leave the classroom and go their separate ways, Amelia is small enough to bring everyone together on daily basis. Unlike large university settings, it’s a truly intimate environment where the experts are always accessible to share their knowledge and advice beyond the classroom, whether it's over coffee, dinner, or wine. It’s an enriching experience that endures beyond the summer months. 

Is it also possible to audit just one or two of the classes of the program? 

While each course can stand alone, the organisation of the summer program crescendos. For those looking for the full immersion experience, each course builds upon the next to create an in-depth understanding of art crime and cultural heritage protection. But, if someone has singular interests or goals, or less liberty to spend a full summer abroad, the opportunity to audit a single course can also provide unique benefits. 

While the participants always learn a lot in Amelia, what do you learn from them? 

With so many backgrounds and ages represented each year, everyone comes to Amelia with their own academic interests and cultural backgrounds. Over the summer months, Amelia becomes a melting pot for the sharing of ideas. I have heard stories ranging from archaeological digs in Syria, to the ofttimes unbelievable anecdotes of art detectives, to the way New Zealand smells in the summertime.

Which course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

I’m always torn by this question. Marc Masurovsky’s work with provenance and Holocaust-era assets is something I am continually fascinated by and constantly starved to absorb. However, my summer schedule has yet to align with Christos Tsirogiannis’s course on illicit antiquities, a fascinating subject, and one I would be incredibly interested to incorporate into my research capabilities. 

What is your experience with the ARCA conference in June? 

The breadth of subject-matter covered over a single weekend by an international group of academics and experts is unprecedented. Speakers hail from the world’s most prestigious cultural heritage institutions while also including accomplished independent researchers. But, there is also time to enjoy the Italian countryside with organised dinners and cocktails, offering the opportunity to converse with colleagues in a relaxed social environment set against an Umbrian vista. 

Is there anything you can recommend for future students to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

I would always suggest that participants take advantage of the immersive experience. Become an Amerini (the name for the locals of Amelia). Hike through blooming sunflowers. Decorate the streets during Corpus Domini. Try as many local delicacies as your palette allows (affordable truffles and freshly made cheese are not easily attainable luxuries outside of Italy). Go on excursions. And, above all, be curious while you have the chance.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org

Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana (Slovenia). He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

April 2, 2019

Beautiful April Fools Day pranks and still no sign of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi


Yesterday, it appears that the art and museum world ran amok with April Fools Day fake news on the whereabouts of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.

Tongue-in-cheek April 1st reports claimed that the "missing" $450m painting is hanging in US President Trump's private quarters at the White House.   Another  reported that Abu Dhabi planned to trade the painting to neighboring emirate Qatar in exchange for Paris Saint Germain soccer player, footballer Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, the Brazilian forward.   Neither of course are true.   While its location remains a mystery, the tale of the Salvator Mundi is a complicated one of power, intrigue, betrayal and seemingly immeasurable sums of money ARCA is continuing to follow the controversy surrounding the world's most expensive painting.


April 1, 2019

Two years later and no sign of the Lindauers?


Two years ago, on the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2017, a stolen Ford Courier utility vehicle drove up Parnell Road close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand between 3:30 and 4:00 am.  As it neared the International Art Centre, it then turned and reversed twice into a large plate glass window, at the front of the gallery.  Having smashed in the window, the driver of the Ford and a second suspect, who appeared on the scene at the same time driving a white 2016 Holden Commodore, entered the gallery through the broken window.

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
Wearing bandanas, black gloves and dark sweatshirts, the pair climbed through the broken window and snatched two iconic Māori portraits: one of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure and another of Chief Ngatai-Raure loading them into the back of the Holden Commodore.  The artworks, by 19th century Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer, were meant to be the centerpieces of an upcoming auction.  Stolen in less than a minute, the paintings were valued at around NZ $350,000 - $450,000 each.

CCTV footage of thieves
Image Credit: Auckland City Police
The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was painted in 1884 and shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. The portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure, also painted in 1884 shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring.

At the time of the brazen theft, art world figures expressed dismay at the loss, and characterised Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.”  And while immediate and extensive publicity both in New Zealand and elsewhere ensured that a legitimate mainstream sale or disposal of the artworks was unlikely, two years one the two works of art remain missing. 

Any information on the thieves or the white 2016 Holden Commodore should be reported to Auckland City Police or anonymously via the New zealand Crimestoppers tip line: 0800 555 111.


March 30, 2019

To celebrate Van Gogh's birthday, we again highlight his works of art which have been stolen over the years.


Today is Van Gogh’s 166th birthday.

To celebrate his importance, we highlight his works of art which have been stolen over the years. Some of these remain missing.

When opportunity has knocked, art thieves have often had a preference for works of art attributed to Vincent Van Gogh.   But just how many artworks by Vincent van Gogh have been stolen? 

In Van Gogh's lifetime, he only sold one painting, The Red Vineyard, despite the fact that his works  have long commanded substantial figures in the contemporary art world. Nine of his masterpieces are ranked among the world's 50 most expensive works of art ever sold.    

Echoing that, the wave pattern of art theft often mirrors the whimsy of the art market. And when that happens,  thieves often follow the path of least protection or resistance and strike at objects the know to be of value taking into consideration the places that allow for the opportunity.

Taking a look inside ARCA's list of art crimes involving the artist Vincent Van Gogh and by our count, 36 Van Gogh works of art have been stolen, 3 of them two times each, over the course of 14 separate art thefts.

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Stolen in 1937 - The Lovers: The Poet's Garden IV, 1888  is only known to the art world through an 1888 letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo. This artwork, likely an oil on canvas was completed the same year the letter was sent and may have been stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  The only known image of this painting is based the small sketch the artist sent to his brother along with his letter.  This work of art has never been recovered. 

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June 4, 1977 - Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen from Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum and later recovered only to then be stolen again in 2010. 

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February 17, 1975 – Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was one of 28 works of art stolen from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. The painting was recovered in an apartment registered to an alias in Milan on April 6, 1975.  It too was stolen a second time, just one month later. See the individual theft post here.

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May 15, 1975 - Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was stolen for a second time along with 37 other Impressionist and Post Impressionist works of art from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. This follow-up theft included many of same artworks previously taken during the February 17, 1975 theft. The Van Gogh was recovered on November 2, 1975 in what was then West Germany along with ten other stolen artworks taken during the second the Galleria d'Arte Moderna theft. See the individual theft post here.

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May 20, 1988 - Three paintings Vase with Carnations (1886) by Vincent Van Gogh, La maison du maître Adam Billaud à Nevers (The House of Master Adam Billaud at Nevers) painted in 1874 by Johan Barthold Jongkind and Bouteilles et pêches (Bottles and peaches) painted in 1890 by Paul Cézanne were stolen from the Stedelijk Museum, next door to the Van Gogh Museum on the Museumplein in Amsterdam.  All three works of art were recovered undamaged.  See the individual theft post here.

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December 12, 1988 -  Three Van Goghs worth an estimated €113 million euros were stolen from the The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo about 60 miles east of Amsterdam. The stolen works of art included the second of three painted sketches titled De aardappeleters, (the potato eaters) completed in 1885, as well as two other works Four Cut Sunflowers, (also known as Overblown Sunflowers from August-September), 1887 and Loom with Weaver,1884.  All three paintings were recovered but had sustained damages.  See the individual theft post here.

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June 28, 1990 - Three early Van Gogh paintings, Digging farmer, 1885-87, Brabant Peasant, seated, 1884-1885, and Wheels of the Water Mill in Gennep were stolen from the Het Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The Digging Farmer was found in 1991 in a bank safe in Belgium. The other two paintings were returned in 1994 via negotiations with a tertiary party.  See the individual theft post here.

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April 14, 1991 - 20 paintings by Vincent van Gogh were stolen from the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. All 20 paintings were recovered within 24 hours. Three of the 20 paintings were severely damaged. Four perpetrators, including one museum guard and a former employee of the museum's security firm were arrested in July 1991.  See the entire list of artworks and the individual theft post here.

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May 19, 1998  -  The prestigious Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome was robbed by three armed with guns shortly before closing time. The criminals stole two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne, 1889 and Le Jardinier, October 1889 and Paul Cézanne's Cabanon de Jourdan, 1906.  On July 5, 1998 eight suspects were arrested and all three paintings were recovered.   See the individual theft post here.

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May 13-15, 1999 - The Vincent van Gogh painting, The Willow, was stolen from the headquarters of F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV in Den Bosch. The painting was recovered in 2006 following an undercover sting operation where two suspects were arrested. See the individual theft post here.

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December 7, 2002 - Two thieves using a ladder break in to the Van Gogh Museum making off with two paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884). Following an intensive international investigation, two Dutchmen, Octave Durham, A.K.A. "The Monkey" and Henk Bieslijn were arrested in 2004 for their respective roles in the burglary. Durham received a prison sentence of 4.5 years. Henk Bieslijn was sentenced to 4 years incarceration. Each of the culprits were ordered to pay the Van Gogh Museum €350,000 in damages and both denied responsibility.  The paintings remained lost for 14 years only to resurface in late September 2016 in the Castellammare di Stabia area in the Bay of Naples. During a blitz by Italian law enforcement on members of an illicit cocaine trafficking ring operated by  a splinter group of the Naples Camorra, the paintings were recovered and are now safely back at the artist's museum in Amsterdam.  See individual theft post here. 

April 26, 2003 - Three paintings including Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape were taken from The Whitworth Art Gallery at The University of Manchester. The works of art were found the next day crammed into a tube behind a public toilet in Manchester's Whitworth Park. See the individual theft post here.

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February 10, 2008 - Four paintings were stolen at gunpoint from a private Zürich gallery run by the Foundation E.G. Bührle in Switzerland. The paintings were Blossoming Chestnut Branches by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat, Claude Monet's Poppies near Vétheuil and Edgar Degas' Count Lepic and His Daughters.  The Van Gogh and Monet were recovered on February 18, 2008.  The Degas was recovered in April 2012 and Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat was recovered April 12, 2012.  See the individual theft post here.

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August 21, 2010Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen for the second time from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo.  Its current whereabouts are still unknown. 

March 26, 2019

Court dismisses Hicham Aboutaam complaint against Dow Jones & Company's for Benoit Faucon and Georgi Kantchev's Wall Street Journal article discussing the family's ancient art business



In July 2017 antiquities dealer Hicham Aboutaam sued the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal’s corporate parent Dow Jones & Co., in New York County Supreme Court over an article titled “Prominent Art Family Entangled in ISIS Antiquities-Looting Investigations” which was published in the Wall Street Journal on May 31, 2017 claiming his family's business and reputation had been damaged by the article written by WSJ reporters Benoit Faucon and Georgi Kantchev .  The journalists, who shared a byline on the article, were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.

In the filed 30 page complaint, Hicham Aboutaam as Plaintiff requested unspecified damages based on claims of libel and defamation.

In a ruling before the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, dated March 22, 2019 and filed today, Honorable Robert D. Kalish J.S.C granted the Motion of the Defendant, Dow Jones & Company, dismissing the complaint in its entirety.  The Court ruled that "the thrust of the article was that Plaintiff's family –"one of the most storied families in the international antiquities business"– is being investigated and scrutinized about the selling of looted antiquities and whether the family business is dealing in items looted by ISIS and then sold through dealers like Plaintiff and his brother Ali."  

In making his ruling, Kalish added:

"By no means does this Court's decision seek to undermine the serious consequences that sometimes follow a news organization's decision to publish details of an ongoing investigation by law enforcement.  However, the decision to truthfully report on an ongoing law enforcement investigation is ultimately a question of journalistic judgement.  Unless the reporting on such an investigation is materially false or affirmatively creates false suggestions, it is not for the courts to question an editorial judgement to report on an ongoing investigation." 

As the Court dismissed the plaintiff's causes of action for libel and defamation by implication, the Court did not address the Defendant's, Dow Jones & Co., argument that the Plaintiff failed to plead actual malice with regard to both causes of action.

In an email exchange regarding the Court's decision, Steve Severinghaus, Senior Director of Communications with Dow Jones stated "We are gratified by the court's decision to dismiss Mr. Aboutaam’s lawsuit against Dow Jones."

Suspect antiquities, traceable to ancient art sales through Hicham and Ali Aboutaam's companies have been written about with recurring frequency on the Association's blog.

It should be remembered that Hicham Aboutaam was arrested in 2003 for smuggling a looted ceremonial drinking vessel from Iran into the US, claiming that it had come from Syria.  Hicham pled guilty to the charges in 2004, paid a fine, and the vessel was returned to the Iranian authorities. As a result of that incident, Hicham Aboutaam stated that his conviction stemmed from a "lapse in judgment."

In the past, the Egyptian authorities accused Ali Aboutaam of involvement with Tarek El-Suesy (al-Seweissi), who was arrested in 2003 under Egypt’s patrimony law for illegal export of antiquities. Ali Aboutaam was tried in absentia, pronounced guilty and was fined, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the Egyptian court in April 2004 after he was accused of smuggling artefacts from Egypt to Switzerland.  To date, Ali Aboutaam has not served any of the Egyptian sentence. 

The Aboutaams voluntarily repatriated 251 Antiquities valued at $2.7 Million to the State of Italy in May 2009 when the objects were tied to one of Italy's most notorious smuggling rings.


By Lynda Albertson

Recovered: Picasso portrait of Dora Maar


After negotiations that stretched from the UK, to the Netherlands and beyond, a Pablo Picasso portrait of photographer Dora Maar, stolen in 1999, has been recovered thanks to the work of private investigators.

Painted in 1938, Buste de Femme, is one of 63 known works in homage to Picasso's muse of nine years.  The artwork was stolen on March 11, 1999 from a 238 foot private yacht owned by the sometimes controversial Saudi billionaire Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh.  The theft occurred while his vessel, Coral Island, was harbored at Antibes on the Côte d’Azur in France undergoing refurbishment.

According to reports, just prior to its theft, the painting had been hung in the luxury vessel's primary living room, but had been removed temporarily from its pride of place and alarmed position while the room was being redecorated.  Packed precisely, it had been relocated to another locked room, placed carefully alongside a second artwork by Henri Matisse.  The Picasso was stolen, but the Matisse was not. And interestingly, the CCTV at the Antibes dock where the ship was moored, was conveniently malfunctioning.

The painting was eventually traced to the home of a Dutch real estate developer, who reportedly acted in good faith at the time of the purchase and was not aware of the theft.  In a post published on Twitter, Dutch art historian Arthur Brand released his own statement announcing his recovery along with a photograph of the artwork. 


Speaking with the Dutch morning news outlet Volkskrant Brand said "Once people realize that it is a stolen thing, they want to get rid of it." ...“They don't dare go to the police, they are afraid of it being stolen or being arrested while they have nothing to do with it. And then they come to me.”

Less than a month ago, intermediaries brought the painting to Brand’s apartment in Amsterdam.  On hand was Dick Ellis, the retired founder of Scotland Yard’s art and antiques squad.  An ARCA trustee, Ellis now works as a private investigator, in this case representing the insurance company who legally owns the stolen Picasso.  A representative from New York’s Pace Gallery, where the painting had previously been purchased, was flown in to authenticate the painting at a high-security location in Amsterdam.

Police in France and the Netherlands have issued statements that they will not prosecute the painting's last owner as the artwork apparently changed hands several times over the waning years. As the painting was insured, it is now the property of the insurance company, who will decide what to do with it next. 

Who ultimately gets to keep the artwork will depend on the policy-holder's "buy-back" rights, if he had any.  Buy back rights are specifically written clauses contained in property insurance policies that insure against physical loss or damage of high-value tangible property. In some cases buy-back clauses give the insured, in this case a private owner, first rights when in comes to buying the object back from the insurance company after having received a payout.  

As has been the case in the past, high-value, high-portability and rapidly appreciating works of art that have been stolen and subsequently recovered often bring large sums when they are sold after their recovery.