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May 26, 2019

Interview with Monica di Stefano, ARCA’s Social Director

By Edgar Tijhuis

Since the beginning of ARCA’s program in Amelia, Monica di Stefano has been involved in ARCA’s activities to organize many local affairs for ARCA. 

We asked her to tell us more about her work for ARCA and life in this unique, more than 3200 years old, town in Umbria.

Can you tell us something about your background?

I was born in Amelia where I have basically spent my life among lots of travels. After obtaining my first degree in Foreign Languages and Literature, I started working in different fields, all related to the use of foreign languages. Currently I teach Spanishand English in Umbrian high schools.

And your work for ARCA? 

I started working for ARCA in 2009…. so I can say I am the oldest person in ARCA’s history together with Noah Charney and Edgar Tijhuis. In the first edition of the program I was involved by chance teaching some participants of the postgraduate program. I have worked as a teacher of Italian for ARCA participants until few years ago. In that same year Professor Charney asked me to help in the organization of some trips and extra academic activities so I started working as the ‘Social Director’ who takes care of events, field trips and logistics.

What is it like in Amelia? 

Amelia is a small medieval town, far from the crazy, busy, polluted world that maybe people are used to. Life is slow, technology can be slow, but this makes Amelia and its surroundings very special and unique. I recommend to be ready for a very quite place. A homebase where ARCA participants can discover the real Italy and make lifelong friendships, in a summer without air conditioning, but with experiences to be remembered forever...

What is so special about this program? 

Our program is exceptional because participants and professors live close to each other everyday, in a town where it is hard not to meet even after class and it becomes a pleasure to share a pizza and a glass of wine with people from many countries, all together after a long day. Our participants and professors live almost 3 months together under the common interest of cultural heritage, in a town which offers the basic services that are necessary for a serious academic program and which permits those studying with us ample time and space to concentrate on studies while having fun at the same time immersed in a history of more than 3 millenniums…

And what do you enjoy at ARCA? 

I feel that I am really lucky to be part of ARCA world because in these past 10 years hundreds of people from all over the world have come to Amelia and I have been blessed to know them, to be in contact with people of different nationalities, to explore different cultures and languages from which I have learned a lot. It is the entire world that comes to our small lovely town and the entire town benefits from this culturally diverse exchange.

Which course would you like to follow yourself? 

After 11 years working for ARCA I realize I would love to be on the side of the particpants and follow the eleven courses myself!!! If only I could….if I was not so busy…I believe every subject has its own peculiarities and every professor has his/her charm….so nothing has to be missed!

Any advice for the participants that come to Amelia? 

Enjoy every single day of this experience, try to travel around with trains, local buses, and take the time to get to know the local people…

Keep in mind that you came here to study but….doing it in Amelia has a definitely special touch!


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

May 25, 2019

The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage wants the Getty Museum to verify the origins of four more works of art which they have identified as being stolen or exported from Italy without an export license.

On Monday, December 3, 2018 Italy’s Court of Cassation rejected the J. Paul Getty Museum's appeal against the lower court ruling in Pesaro, issued by Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini.  That earlier ruling, issued on June 08, 2018, was in favour of the prosecution’s request for seizure of the bronze statue, commonly known as the Statue of a Victorious Youth or colloquially as the Getty Bronze, il Lisippo or l'Atleta di Fano.  

This week, on May 22, 2019 the Comitato per il recupero e la restituzione dei beni culturali, the Italian Committee for the Recovery and Return of Cultural Assets, chaired by the Minister Alberto Bonisoli, met at the Collegio Romano and requested a meeting, as soon as possible, with the administration of the J. Paul Getty museum for a discussion on the return of the bronze statue to Italy, as sanctioned by a sentence of the Italian Court of Cassation as well as to discuss the status of an additional four works of art which the Italian authorities have identified as being stolen or exported from the territory of Italy without an export license.

Those four objects are:

An 1880 oil on canvas painting by Italian artist Camillo Miola known as the Oracle.

Miola was a scholar of classical antiquity and as a result almost all of his paintings represent subjects of Greek or Roman history known for his art criticism as much as his painting, writing under the pseudonym of Biacca. Miola was also an honorary professor of the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples. The artwork in question, depicts the Pythia sitting upon the sacred tripod in representation of the Delphic oracle. To the left is the Omphalos of Delphi, an ancient marble monument found at the archaeological site of Delphi which the ancient Greeks believed marked the city as the navel of the world.

The Oracle of Delphi was exhibited at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts: Turin in 1880 and later purchased by the Province of Naples in 1879.  In 1943, due to persistent bombing in the area of Naples during World War II, the Provincial Administration of Naples issued orders to remove works of art it owned from the city offices and to have 186 paintings sequestered at the Istituto San Lorenzo in Aversa, just north of Naples in a zone heavily contested by opposing military forces. Shortly after this mandate, sometime between 1943 and 1946 the artwork was documented as stolen.

Two 1st Century BCE - 1 Century CE Roman-era funerary lions

Photo Credit: Bottom - Instituto Germanico - Roma
Top Left & Top Right- Roman Funerary Sculpture Catalogue of the Collections by Guntram Koch, 1988
According to the Bulletin of the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art (Malibu: 1959), pp. 20 and 22, these pieces represent grave lions executed in the second century CE in Asia Minor.  The provenance listed from the museum's website indicates that they were acquired from Nicolas Koutoulakis for $9,000 in 1958.

Photographic evidence from February 5, 1912, recorded in the archive of the Germanic Archaeological Institute of Rome, documents that these two lions once stood in front of Palazzo Spaventa di Casale di Scoppito in a small village six kilometers from L'Aquila, which was once part of the ancient Sabine city of Amiternum.

The now dead collector/dealer Koutoulakis is a name already mentioned in this blog as someone who 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 outlines key players in the illicit antiquities trade in Italy during the 1990s.

The Italian authorities contend these objects were exported from Italy without permission.

A Roman floor mosaic depicting the head of Medusa, 115 CE - 150 CE

Getty records show that this mosaic floor was purchased from Jerome Eisenberg via Royal-Athena Galleries) for $15,000 in 1978, though the Italians state now identifies it as stolen from Italy.  Royal Athena Galleries has also previously acquired stolen antiquities, both from the Corinth Museum in Greece and antiquities stolen from Italian excavation warehouses.  These details and the fact that these earlier identified objects were later repatriated to Greece and Italy should have triggered some sort of increased diligence as to this mosaic's journey from discovery to the dealer's showroom.

Replying to an email inquiry on these objects initiated by Jason Felch, Lisa Lapin, Vice President of Communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust responded as follows:

"I understand you are inquiring about the latest activity related to the Getty bronze. Italy has asked for information and discussions about four objects acquired by J. Paul Getty in the 1950s and early 1970s.  We are thoroughly researching these objects and will discuss our findings in good faith with the Culture Ministry.  As always, we take these claims seriously.  As we have in the past, if any of these objects were stolen or illegally excavated, they will be returned to Italy.  

The Getty has deep, strong ties with individuals and institutions throughout Italy that have produced many mutual benefits, and the Getty is determined not to allow a difference of opinion about ownership of the Bronze impede our warm and productive relationships. 

In accordance with our 2007 agreement with the Culture Ministry, and consistent with our fiduciary obligations as stewards of the Getty collections, we are defending our ownership of the Bronze through the legal process, which is still ongoing.  We will take all available steps to assert our legal right to the statue, including potentially through the European Court of Human Rights. 


The J. Paul Getty Museum has six months from the date of the final decision at the domestic level (generally speaking, the judgment of the highest court) to lodge its application regarding the Getty Bronze with the European Court of Human Rights should it decide to do so. After that period their application cannot be accepted by the Court.  To file they will have to allege that the court authority of Italy, which is bound by the Convention, in their opinion, has/have, through one or more acts or omissions directly affecting them, violated specific articles related to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Given that the Italian Court of Cassation issued its ruling on December 3, 2018, the museum would need to file its application on or by June 3, 2019.   In 2018 the ECHR ruled inadmissible or struck out 2256 applications involving Italy. It ruled on 27 applications alleging violations by Article/by State.

By:  Lynda Albertson

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 tombarolo'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. De Angelis was later stopped near L'Inviolata with fragments in his car, that were matched with 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 works of art not highlighted in this blog post for the 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 take some time to stop in.

By:  Lynda Albertson