Blog Subscription via

January 20, 2021

Restitution: Belgian authorities hand over a 1st century BCE Roman statue stolen from Rome in 2011

Today, authorities from the General Directorate of the Economic Inspection of the SPF Economie in Belgium turned over a lifesize 1st century BCE Roman statue of a man to officers from the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.  The seizure, and subsequent restitution, come at the conclusion of an investigation conducted by Belgium's Economic Inspectorate, in cooperation with the Brussels public prosecutor's office.

Stolen during a theft in Rome in 2011, this headless 2000-year-old Roman marble togatus was located in a Brussels' gallery by the Carabinieri TPC and was then determined to be on consignment by an individual already on the radar of the Italian authorities.  According to the report given by the Belgian authorities, the sculpture's restitution is the first result of a series of investigations linked to fraud in the art market, which are currently being carried out by the Economic Inspectorate under the aegis of the Brussels judicial authorities.  It also shows how law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions can, and are, actively working together to investigate and combat cross-border thefts and trafficking of art and antiquities. 

As the Belgian authorities indicated this is just the first of a series of investigations. And given the frequency illicit antiquities continue to penetrate the legitimate art market, frequently in Brussels' Sablon, embroiling its galleries and their owners in the repetitive drama of plausible deniability, it might be wise for dealers to take a look at their consignment practices.   Being complacent when handling stolen and illegally-exported (illicit) antiquities, is never good for one's reputation, even if the items are accepted in good faith.   It would behove dealers to be more stringent when accepting works of art from potential consignors, not only to ensure that they are not support organized criminal enterprise through the illicit antiquities trade but also so their client's don't lose faith in their expertise and ability to satisfactorily vet the artefacts they recommend to their clientele. 

Likewise, the prudent purchaser should do their own homework, carefully vetting the trophy works that they wish to purchase for their collections. In cross-checking all of the accompanying documentation, they should ask themselves, the gallery and where applicable the consignor

  • Does your toga-wearing headless man have an export license? 
  • Does his documentation look authentic? 
  • Might the license be falsified?  
  • Is the country of origin falsified? 
  • Does the country of export match with the country of the object's origin?  
  • Does the object have a known find spot?   
  • How far back can the chain of ownership be demonstrated? 
  • and lastly, are there any other red flags like "property of an anonymous Swiss collector"?

By:  Lynda Albertson