Showing posts with label Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale. Show all posts

September 28, 2020

Two Arrested for Robbery and Vandalism at Church of Sant’Agata al Collegio in Sicily


Image Credit: Associazione Gesù Nazareno - Caltanissetta

Article By: Lynette Turnblom

For the second time in under two months the Chiesa di Sant’Agata al Collegio in Caltanissetta, Sicily has been damaged by acts of vandalism and the theft of sacred objects.  On 22 September 2020, two suspicious suspects were seen walking at a fast pace away from the zone surrounding the church carrying an unusually shaped wrapped object.  Upon noting patrolling officers nearby, the pair picked up their pace, leading the city police to call for backup in order to stop them for questioning. 

Image Credit Radio CL1

The young men, later identified as Alessio Pio Raul and Giannone Salvatore, were located and stopped by the police ten minutes south of the seventeenth-century Jesuit church.  In their possession, law enforcement officers found a golden brooch, a church reliquary, a container for holy oil, and 161 euros in coins.  

Image Credit: Associazione Gesù Nazareno - Caltanissetta

Reviewing video surveillance cameras installed in the area, police were able to reconstruct the events related to the church burglary, which showed two suspects breaking in through the door of the church library, where the pair went on to ransacked an office and vending machines where they likely removed the large sum of coins they were carrying when stopped by police,  The duo then moved on to the church itself.

In addition to theft and vandalism of the music school and library, once inside the Baroque church the two thieves attacked various altar spaces, removing a chrismarium, (a ceremonial container for holy oil) and a church ciborium used to hold hosts for, and after, the Eucharist.  



Rushing to steal what they could carry, the thieves left communion host wafers scattered in their wake and heavily disrupted the church's sleeping Madonna, a memorial representation of Mary's uncorrupted body and soul representing the moment of transit from earthly life to the Assumption. 

It is from this peaceful representation of the mother of the church that the thieves filched the gold brooch, later recovered when the pair were stopped by police.  And as if that wasn't enough, the marauders had also gathered up all of the church's candlesticks, piling them in a corner, probably in order to return for them at some later time.  Thankfully, at least in this instance, following the suspects' apprehension, all of the stolen items have now been returned to the parish priest. 

Yet, as mentioned earlier, this act of theft and vandalism came less than a month after an earlier attack on the church.  The first occasion was reported on the 23rd of August.  Similar to the second theft, thieves again had entered the vulnerable church through its library vandalizing the parish and taking offering coins.  At the time of this first theft, Father Gaetano Caneletta said, “it is an offense to our faith and a serious wound to our artistic heritage.”

As shown by these two back-to-back attacks on Chiesa di Sant’Agata al Collegio in such a short time frame, churches are can be viewed as easy targets for thieves.  As Domenica Giani, the head of Vatican police has said, “Humanity’s spiritual thirst and desire to praise God have given life to works of inestimable value and to a religious patrimony that gives rise to greed and the interest of art traffickers.”

While the sacrality of churches may prevent some thieves from targeting them, the abundance of invaluable art housed within them may be too tempting a target for others.  The FBI and the Carabinieri TPC have each outlined several ways that churches can help to protect their artworks and sacred objects: 

  1. Develop an inventory This proves crucial in identifying and locating and recovering items of historic, cultural, or artistic value. The house-of-worship staff should retain a comprehensive list of all valuable church property. Detailed written records of objects should include the medium, dimensions, material, proof or artist marks, and any other similar details and should be reviewed periodically to ensure all objects are present and accounted for as not all thefts are not discovered immediately. 
  2. Establish and maintain a current and up to date photographic record: While maintaining written files of artifacts is essential, digital photography makes it easy for staff may store and, if necessary, print high-quality color photos of each item. These pictures can be extremely useful when reporting a loss to the police or notifying registries of objects stolen during a theft or burglary. Photographic records should include all sides of the object.  
  3. Marking items: Initially, it may appear impossible to mark all church related items because of composition or intrinsic value; however, contemporary options to consider for high-value objects could be the use of a forensic asset marking agent, or radio-frequency identification (RFID) which uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects sounding an alarm when objects are moved. 
  4. Insure property: Where financially feasible, office staff and clergy should review the church's casualty insurance coverage to ascertain that the property protection program includes a clause for all historic artifacts and lists particularly high-value items separately.

Maintaining a relationship with local law enforcement is also integral for church officials and can result in more rapid response time and a smoother investigation in cases of theft.  In the case of the attempted theft at Santa Maria Maddalena in Liguria in 2019 the police and the church were able to work together to replace a targeted painting by the 17th-century Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger with a copy when they received advanced intelligence of a potential theft.  Through their collaboration, the church was able to continue operating as normal without the risk of losing their €3.4 million masterpiece.  

In this recent case at Sant’Agata al Collegio, the alert police officers in Caltanissetta were able to respond quickly to the robbery and to retrieve the church's stolen objects.  Police are still investigating the involvement of possible co-conspirators including two other suspected accomplices, one male and one female, both also in their twenties. 

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Bibliography:

Arma dei Carabinieri. ‘Linee guida per la tutela dei beni culturali ecclesiastici’. Ufficio Nazionale per i beni culturali ecclesiastici:, November 2014. https://www.beniculturali.it/mibac/multimedia/MiBAC/documents/feed/pdf/Linee%20Guida%20Tutela%20Beni%20Culturali%20Ecclesiastici-imported-48392.pdf.
Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio. ‘Caltanissetta, vandalizzata la chiesa di Sant’Agata al Collegio. Malviventi rubano anche le offerte’. Seguo News, 23 August 2020, sec. Seguo News - Notizie Caltanissetta. http://www.seguonews.it/caltanissetta-vandalizzata-la-chiesa-di-santagata-al-collegio-malviventi-rubano-anche-le-offerte.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. ‘Theft: A Real Threat to Religious Heritage’. Government. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7 December 2016. https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/theft-a-real-threat-to-religious-heritage.
Giuffrida, Angela. ‘Italian Police Reveal “€3m Painting” Stolen from Church Was a Copy’. The Guardian, 13 March 2019, sec. Art and design. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/mar/13/thieves-steal-3m-painting-by-brueghel-the-younger.
Polizia di Stato. ‘Caltanissetta, Arrestati Dalla Polizia Di Stato Due Ventenni Responsabili Del Raid Notturno Alla Chiesta Di Sant’Agata al Collegio.’ Government. Polizia di Stato, 23 September 2020. https://questure.poliziadistato.it/Caltanissetta/articolo/7945f6aec1680d6c151646476.
Povoledo, Elisabetta. ‘Thieves Trying to Steal Precious Painting Get Worthless Copy’. The New York Times, 14 March 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/14/arts/design/brueghel-crucifixion-painting-stolen.html.
Radio CL1. ‘Arrestati Dalla Squadra Mobile Gli Autori Del Raid Nella Chiesa Di Sant’Agata’. Radio CL1, 22 September 2020. https://share.xdevel.com/.
Stewart, Nan. ‘Thieves Stole a $3.4 Million Bruegel From a Rural Italian Church—or So They Thought. Here’s How the Village Tricked Them’. Artnet News, 13 March 2019, sec. Art and Law. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/pieter-brueghel-theft-1487668.

July 24, 2020

Restitution in the time of COVID-19: A fertility statuette representing a mother goddess returns to Iraq


Modeled from clay and painted, this female figurine replete with voluptuous curves, and depicted naked and sitting with her arms folded under her breasts, in a pose suggestive of childbirth was discovered by officers working for the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, whose job it is to carry out surveillance of internet sales of suspect art.  

The tiny seated figurine, whose features clearly suggest fertility and the renewal of life, is typical of "mother goddess" figurines originating within the Neolithic culture of Halaf, named more than a century ago after one of the first sites where these types of figurines were found.  The people of the Halaf culture resided in the geographical regions later known as Northern or upper Mesopotamia.  Representations of these types of female figurines have been found as far west as Cilicia in Turkey, to the east along the border of Iran and Iraq, north as far as Lake Van in Turkey, and south as far as the Damascus basin in Syria. This one however made her way much farther.  She was found in fare away Udine, in northeastern Italy. 


Yesterday, in a formal handover ceremony in Rome at the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, the Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini,  alongside General Roberto Riccardi, Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, acknowledged the importance of this figurine as representative of the known narrative of sixth-millennium Halaf social practices.  In returning this artifact to the Iraqi people, Franceschini, in his role at Italy's Ministro per i Beni e le Attività Culturali e per il Turismo — MiBACT underscored the ministry's commitment in the field of cultural diplomacy, and the TPC Carabinieri Command's role tracking down and recovering illegally exported heritage from other vulnerable source countries found within Italy's jurisdiction.

These seated Halaf figurines in general range in size from small to tiny, and like this one, are usually less than 10 centimeters tall.  Picking it gently up, the Iraqi ambassador to Rome, Safia Taleb Al-Souhail demonstrated that it would fit comfortably in the palm of someone's hand.  It's tiny size, just 9 X 3 cm along with her suggestive imagery have made portable Mesopotamian antiquities like this one extremely popular among traffickers. So much so that an image of one, almost identical, is printed on the ICOM Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk, given that the original site where these types of figurines were discovered was at Tel Halaf in Syria.


In describing the circumstances of this artefact's discovery General Roberto Riccardi, Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage stated that the Carabinieri TPC squad in Udine first identified the suspect auction in an online sale, and working with historians affiliated with the Department of Humanities and Cultural Heritage at the Università degli Studi di Udine determined that the statuette was an authentic artefact of the Halaf culture.  The Italian authorities, in turn, worked with their Iraqi counterparts to coordinate details for this object's eventual restitution.  How the antiquity was determined to be Iraqi in origin was not discussed.


Ambassador Al-Souhail stated that she appreciated the efforts made by the Italian authorities and the Carabinieri forces in combating organized crime which involve the smuggling of Iraqi antiquities.  She also commended Italy's commitment to activate a Memorandum of Understanding which the parties signed, between both countries in that regard and to Italy's commitment to international agreements and relevant Security Council resolutions.
For those that would like to delve into the locations where seated Halaf sculptures can be found we highly recommend this paper by Dr. Ellen Belcher. In it Dr. Belcher reminds us that:

Many figurines identifiable as Halaf types regularly appear in museum collections, on Internet auction sites, and in antiquities dealers' catalogs in most cases illegally smuggled into Western countries, they can make no contribution to this contextualized study. However it is hoped that this study may prove useful for localizing the ongoing looting of Halaf sites.

Belcher also mentions (page 374) in the aforementioned paper that by the fall of 2013, there were no more ongoing scientific excavations of Halaf sites in Turkey, Syria or Iraq, highlighting that ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq had left these historic sites unprotected from looting. 

By Lynda Albertson

July 16, 2020

In difesa della bellezza: quando la cooperazione ci restituisce un patrimonio prezioso

Martedì 24 giugno a Palazzo Pitti è stata inaugurata una nuova mostra dal titolo “Storie di pagine dipinte. Miniature recuperate dai Carabinieri” (che sarà aperta fino al 4 ottobre 2020), organizzata dalle Gallerie degli Uffizi, in collaborazione con l’Università degli Studi di Firenze e con il Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale. Alla conferenza sono infatti intervenuti gli esponenti delle tre prestigiose istituzioni: il direttore degli Uffizi Eike Schmidt, il generale Roberto Riccardi, del Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale e la prof.ssa Sonia Chiodo, curatrice della mostra e una tra i massimi esperti in Storia della Miniatura. 

La mostra è stata l’esito di un laboratorio didattico della Scuola di Specializzazione in Beni Artistici, corso biennale di alta formazione dell’Università di Firenze. Un giovane team di ricerca, composto da tredici storici dell’arte, sotto la guida appunto della prof.ssa Chiodo, hanno studiato circa sessanta pagine miniate che sono state recuperate dai Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela. Una sinergia di forze e di competenze che hanno cooperato non solo all’allestimento espositivo e ma soprattutto allo studio, al recupero e alla valorizzazione di queste preziose opere d’arte cartacee. Le pagine manoscritte e i cuttings facevano tutti parte di corali liturgici, grandi libri dedicati ai canti della Messa e delle preghiere quotidiane, riccamente decorati di miniature. 

I corali hanno subito furti e sono stati violati nella loro integrità. Molti fogli sono stati strappati o tagliati, rubati, venduti in gruppi, completamente privati del proprio contesto e infine dispersi. Come ha precisato la prof.ssa Chiodo: 

“Le pagine recuperate sono vittime di un naufragio, ma dobbiamo tenere presente che ciò che manca non è perduto ma soltanto disperso. Da qualche parte nel mondo è ancora conservato da qualcuno, che forse inconsapevolmente, ne detiene illecitamente la proprietà”

La mostra è divisa in sei sezioni, corrispondenti ai luoghi di provenienza delle pagine dei corali: i conventi francescani di Pistoia e di Poggibonsi; la pieve di Castelfiorentino; la chiesa di Santo Stefano al Ponte di Firenze; le abbazie benedettine di San Pietro e di Montemorcino a Perugia. Lo studio storico-artistico è stato il presupposto fondamentale per le indagini e si è occupato della ricostruzione dei frammenti. Oltre che dalla bibliografia e dalle fotografie occorre partire dal dettaglio superstite per creare nuovamente l’insieme perduto, che deve essere studiato cercando di capire e di riconoscere la morfologia del corale; così come lo specchio di scrittura, articolato dalla parte musicale e da quella testuale e di ricomporre la scansione liturgica dei graduali e degli antifonari. 

Uno studio interessante che non si limita alla parte teorica della Storia dell’Arte ma che richiede di scendere in campo e di conoscere dal vivo le pagine nei luoghi in cui sono conservate. Personalmente mi sono occupata della serie di 22 corali proveniente dall’abbazia olivetana di Montemorcino a Perugia, trasferiti nella casa madre dell’Ordine a Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Asciano) il 4 agosto del 1821. Il mio gruppo di ricerca era composto da altre tre colleghe, le dottoresse Beatrice Molinelli, Giulia Spina e Alice Stivali. Ricostruire l’intera serie ormai dispersa non è stato semplice anche per la spregiudicatezza del furto, avvenuto alle prime ore del 7 maggio del 1975, che ha compromesso irreversibilmente l’unità della serie fatta di immagini, parole e musica. 

I ladri rubarono sedici pesanti corali dalla biblioteca dell’abbazia lasciandone quattro durante la fuga. Alcuni mesi dopo sono stati ritrovati i resti di questi libri nel letame, privati della legatura originale quattrocentesca, della coperta e ovviamente di tutte le miniature. La nostra ricerca si è basata sulle fotografie precedenti al furto, sulla bibliografia e sullo spoglio dei cataloghi d’asta. Il lavoro è poi proseguito con lo studio del contenuto liturgico e con l’analisi stilistica delle piccole opere d’arte miniate, fortemente influenzate dalla maniera pittorica di Perugino e Pintoricchio. 

Siamo riuscite così a individuare e ricollegare altri nuovi frammenti di questa importante serie umbra e individuare un corale, contente l’Officio dei Morti, che era considerato disperso e ora ricongiunto alla serie per cui era stato realizzato. Queste miniature sono ancora più preziose in quanto evocative di una storia perduta. Sono infatti l’unica testimonianza rimasta dell’abbazia benedettina di Montemorcino, costruita su volere del cardinale Niccolò Capocci entro il 1371, della quale resta solamente un lato del chiostro a seguito della demolizione avvenuta nel 1739. 


La mostra si presenta dunque come un esempio concreto e riuscito di come la ricerca scientifica e quella criminologica possono e devono concorrere insieme al recupero e alla restituzione del patrimonio artistico e culturale. L’auspicio è che collaborazioni di questo tipo possano perpetuarsi nel tempo ed essere un monito e uno strumento educativo affinché l’arte non venga più lesa ma possa restare un bene per l’umanità. 

Maria Eletta Benedetti, Guest Blogger, ARCA

July 1, 2020

Auction House Seizure: A Roman marble portrait head of the Emperor Septimius Severus, circa 200 CE seized at Christie's

Image Left:  Christie's Catalogue where the stolen sculpture was identified.
Image Right:  Showroom image of the stolen head of Emperor Septimius Severus

An ancient Roman marble head was seized on the basis of a search warrant requested by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office on June 24th at Christie’s auction house based on evidence provided by the Italian Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, attesting that the portrait bust had been stolen from Italy in on 18 November 1985 before eventually landing in New York.  Taken at gunpoint from the Antiquarium of the Campanian Amphitheatre in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, in the Province of Caserta, situated 25 km north of Naples in southern Italy.  The sculpture depicts Septimius Severus who served as Roman emperor from 193 to 211 CE. 

The antiquity was published in Christie's 28 October 2019 catalogue Faces of the Past - Ancient Sculpture from the Collection of Dr. Anton Pestalozzi which included two pages describing the biography of the Roman Emporer and the object's comparable likeness to other portraits of Severus in the Serapis-type style, including one at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Denmark.

For the object's provenance, Christie's stated:

◘ with Jean-Luc Chalmin, London

◘ with Galerie Arete, Zurich, acquired from the above, 1993

◘ Dr. Anton Pestalozzi (1915-2007), Zurich, acquired from the above, thence by descent to the current owner. 

According to Roman Historian Cato the Elder the site at Ancient Capua where the object originates was founded by the Etruscans around 800 BCE and is remembered most for being the site where slaves and gladiators led by the legendary Spartacus revolted 73 BCE. 

While details on this particular investigation have not yet been released to the public, one of the troubling aspects in this case - of which there are many - and the most disturbing perhaps, is the failure of anyone whose hands this object passed through to have properly investigated the provenance of this portrait head.  No one, from Jean-Luc Chalmin, to Hans Humbel at Galerie Arete to the Zurich-based lawyer-collector Dr. Anton Pestalozzi ever bothered to ascertain by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom they had obtained the artifact had the legal right to possess it.

Amphitheater Campano Santa Maria Capua Vetere
On the bright side, this third object seizure in a span of weeks should send an important message to the auction powerhouse, as well as to dealers who profit from the sales of illicit material, that the Antiquities Trafficking Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the US and Italian authorities are committed to protecting cultural heritage around the world.

Update:  A second artefact, stolen during this same armed robbery, a head portrait depicting the beloved elder sister of Roman Emperor Trajan, Ulpia Marciana (August 48 – 112) was recovered, twenty-five years ago, ten years after the theft.

June 29, 2020

Object Alert: An Illicit antiquity breezes through the windy city

Hindman Auction Catalogue - 16 June 2020
Lot 157
Most of the time, when one thinks of illicit antiquities one imagines them transiting their way through lofty auction showrooms in London, New York, or more recently, as was in the news last week, Paris.  One doesn't usually suspect a homegrown auction house, from the windy city of Chicago, as a place to spot hot art that once passed through the hands of one of Italy's most notorious bad boys, art dealer Giacomo Medici.  But the market for looted or unprovenanced cultural property in America is still going strong and plundered artefacts have the tendency to scatter farther than you think.  Sometimes, when they do, they turn up in places that we don't expect, well, at least until we do.

An art dealer who post-sentence resides in an expansive seaside villa west of Rome, Giacomo Medici was convicted 13 December 2004 of participation in an organized criminal group as its principal promoter and organizer.  Men in his network plundered large swaths of Italy's territory, with the network's loot making its way into some of the world's most prestigious museums and lining the shelves of extravagant private collections.  But despite the sixteen years that have past since his conviction, Medici's ill-gotten wares continue to bubble to the surface, not unlike Italian gnocchi, one object at a time, in slow dribs and drabs and usually not even mentioning his name as was the case with this recent artefact.

This time, in late June, an investigation lead by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in collaboration with the New York District Attorney's Office and the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage turned up another one of Giacomino's antiquities, this time at Chicago's very own, Hindman Auctioneers, a firm which merged in 2019 with Ohio-based Cowan's and shortened its name from Leslie Hindman to just plain Hindman

Photographed on pages 116 and 117 of Hindman's 16 June 2020 Antiquities and Islamic Art catalogue, Lot 15, A Roman Marble Torso of a Faun with a Goose lists the artefact's provenance succinctly: 

Private Collection. London, acquired in New York in the early 1990s 
Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch. London, 2013

What was provided to back up this claim, or what import, export, or shipping documents were submitted to demonstrate that this Italian antiquity's passages into the United States previously, then back across the sea to the UK, then back into Chicago were legitimate, leaves me curious. 

With no difficulty, and without auction consignment profits to incentivise (or disincentivise) my due diligence, I was quickly, and without too much trouble, able to find and cross-reference the 2013 sale via the Forge & Lynch Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) catalogue.   This sales PDF documented the previous sale of the mythological half-human, half-goat, creature with a discreet tail in a two-page spread.

Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.,
Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) Catalogue - 2013

Joint proprietors of the art dealership Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., Forge and Lynch left Sotheby’s in London in 1997 when the auction house began winding down its London antiquities sales, and continued working together for their own ancient art gallery formed in UK in July 2000.  Both art dealers are familiar with the problem children antiquities dealers of yesteryear from their Sotheby's days, and both have continued to get their reputations scorched brokering suspect art via more recent problematic dealers like Subhash Kapoor. 

So even without Medici's name clearly printed on anything provenance-y provided by the Faun's consignor to Hindman, one has to question first where Forge & Lynch themselves got the piece, and secondly, their own provenance entry for the earlier sale of this artefact, which reads: 

Probably acquired in New York, early 1990s  
Private collection, London, early 1990s-2013

This entry leads me to ask why Hindman changed the "probably acquired in New York" to definitely acquired in New York.  It is also curious why Hindman left off the non-specific "Private collection" in London which at first shakes, might appear less problematic than Robin Symes, whose name appears elsewhere in the June catalogue for LOT 83 from this sale. 

Did someone at Hindman find paperwork that changed the Faun's purported New York acquisition from probable into definite?  And what about that private collection in London from the 1990s until 2013.  Wasn't that one line, even vaguely written, not naming names worth mentioning on the big empty space of the full-page advertisement for the sculpture?  So why did Hindman elect to omit this detail?  

My hunch is that Hindman, who voluntarily relinquished the sculpture of the Faun to the authorities once evidence was presented by law enforcement, operates under the assumption that the occasional confiscation of a found-to-be-looted antiquity identified in their sales catalogues is a reasonable cost of doing business in the murky world of ancient art.  

Risks Hindman has already proved willing to take in the past and that illicit antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis, cooperating with HSI-ICE, pointed out in an earlier Hindman auction, published in the auction house's Worldly Pursuits: An Adventurer’s Collection. The Estate of Steve and Peggy Fossett cataloug. In that sale Tsirogiannis identified three antiquities which matched archival photos in the Medici and Symes archives which proved that the objects had once passed through, or been shared with the networks of Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Christo Michaelides.

But let's go back to this month's Hindman, June 16th auction catalogue.  In this summer's sale 127 objects out of 273 are listed without any provenance dates whatsoever.  Of the 146 remaining objects included in the catalogue which do list some date references:

15 show collection history dates which predate the UNESCO 1970s convention;
12 show collection history dates only to the 1970s;
85 show collection history dates only to the 1980s;
32 show collection history dates only to the 1990s;
and 2 only go back as far as the 2000s.

Knowing that illicit trafficking eyes cannot monitor every single sale, or inquire about every single object consigned to every auction house around the world, leaving out provenance details creates an environment conducive for a game of risk, with dealers more than willing to play, chalking up any losses from the occasional identified object after it has been illegally exported, as inventory shrinkage.

By limiting the details of what is written in provenance descriptions for objects being sold, dealers and auction houses create intentional impediments to those who try to research an object's legitimacy, making it more difficult to discern when an antiquity has passed through the hands of suspect dealers and when a legitimate object has simply been badly documented by a previous owner careless with their receipts.  And that's just speaking to those interested enough, and with the time to dedicate to actually monitor the previous sales of ancient artefacts.

According to a new report published to the LiveAuctioneers website, this inaugural Hindman ancient art auction brought in nearly $1M in sales, proving once again, that despite all the academics screaming about the necessity for clean provenance, buyers of ancient art, for the most part, are not unduly curious about the collection histories of their potential ancient art purchases.  Likewise, more collectors continue to be oblivious or disengaged as to whether or not the antiquities market is problematic and whether or not their lack of curiosity, and lack of due diligence before buying, acts as a catalyst for the destruction of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean world.

Should Hindman have known better with this artefact and should they have been more forthcoming with all of the collection histories listed for this $1M sale's catalogue? Yes and yes.

Hindman Auctioneers was founded by Leslie Hindman in Chicago in 1982.  The firm was not born yesterday, therefore they should be aware of the problems of illicit material infiltrating the ancient art market.  Thomas Galbraith who took over from Leslie Hindman as CEO of the company she founded, (she remains on the board) previously worked as Artnet’s director of global strategy and as interim CEO for Google Venture's start-up Twyla, an online sales platform for art, meaning they both are experienced in art world sales. Given the people at Hindman's helm, and the company's sales presence on the Live Auctioneers sales portal, it also stands to reason that the Chicago auction house has employees with sufficient technical abilities and talent to Google the legitimacy of the objects they accept on consignment and the names of dealers which are problematic.  Given that neither Galbraith nor Hindman are new to the problems of the world, one can assume that their lack of transparency when it comes to collection publishing collection histories for the objects they auction is a conscious choice.

But despite all this, the windy city seems to be gaining ground in the art market. Phillips and Bonhams, both based in London, having opened there, alongside already existing Christie's, and Sotheby's, to keep Hindman company. And browsing through the names of important London and New York ancient art dealers like Charles Ede Ltd., and Royal Athena Galleries whose's pieces were selling in this June's Hindman catalogue, it seems apropos to remind collectors of ancient art (once again) of the need to open their eyes and ask for proof of legitimacy, before simply forking over cash for what might turn out to be tomorrow's new seizure. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

June 11, 2020

Banksy's "the Sorrowful Girl", stolen from Bataclan Concert Hall has been recovered.


When insult, (the theft of a Banksy artwork) was added to injury, (the tragic deaths at Bataclan Concert Hall) no one would have guessed the artwork would be recovered in the countryside of far off Abruzzo in Italy. 

Banksy's memorial artwork, "the Sorrowful Girl", was painted on one of the Paris theatre's emergency exit doors, and soulfully depicts an unusually dressed woman with a slightly bowed head. The single colored artwork had been placed at the concert hall by the British street artist in remembrance of the lives lost during the 13 November 2015 terrorist attack during an Eagles of Death Metal concert.  On that night, 90 concert-goers died.  Others, luckier perhaps, but equally scarred, fled terrified and frightened, some through the very door the artwork had once been painted on. 

On 26 January 2019 last year, Banksy's commemorative artwork was stolen, hacked off from the door using an angle grinder power tool before being loaded onto a truckbed.

The artwork was recovered in Italy by the Alba Adriatica (Teramo) unit of the Italian Carabinieri who carried out a search warrant as part of a joint Italian-French judicial cooperation investigation involving the L'Aquila District Prosecutor, the Italian Carabinieri and French police.

On hand for the press conference held today at the Palace of Justice in L'Aquila, Italy were: Major Christophe Cengig, the liaison officer for organized crime at the French Embassy in Italy; the L'Aquila District Prosecutor Michele Renzo; L'Aquila Public Prosecutor David Mancini;  Lieutenant Colonel Carmelo Grasso, commander of the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of Ancona; Colonel Emanuele Pipola, the provincial commander of the Carabinieri of Teramo, and Lieutenant Colonel Emanuele Mazzotta, commander of the Carabinieri company of Alba Adriatica.


Very little was disclosed during today's tight-lipped public announcement given that the investigation involves a crime that took place in France where an investigation into the theft is ongoing.  No mention was made of who might be involved in the removal of the artwork from France or when and how the Bansky piece ultimately ended up in Abruzzo. 

All that was released was that this operation began in March and that the artwork had been apparently been moved on more than one occasion, before being located in an upstairs storage room of a cottage in the countryside, in the province of Teramo.  At the time the search warrant was executed, the tenants living in the property where the artwork had been stored seem to have been completely unaware of what was being stored inside the closed area where the artwork was found. 

In a moving speech, Public prosecutor Renzo stated:

"Europe is not just a word, it is a common feeling with respect for a complex group of rights that underpin our idea of freedom, which no terrorist act can ever erase. For this reason, I am happy for this operation that gives us back this work that symbolizes mourning for those victims of the terrorist attack in Paris."

No word yet on who, if anyone will be charged in Italy, though the authorities stressed that there does to appear to be any link to terrorism and that the motives for the theft appear to have been purely economic in nature. 

January 21, 2020

Cairo Criminal Court in Abdin convicts former Italian diplomat for antiquities smuggling

Image Credit Left: https://www.radiolfc.net/tag/m-skakal/
Image Credit Right:  Italian Carabiniri
Today the Cairo Criminal Court in Abdin convicted Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal, the former honorary consul of Italy in Luxor, in absentia.  In doing so the courts sentenced the former diplomat to 15 years imprisonment for the smuggling of Egyptian antiquities out of Egypt.  

The Egyptian authorities had previously requested that Skakal's name be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in the smuggling of some 21,855 artifacts from the port of Alexandria.  These objects had been discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, sent through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  

Prosecutors in Egypt had produced evidence in the court case that Skakal was actively involved in the smuggling of the artifacts, which had been seized from inside a diplomatic container shipped in his own name.  The court also found cause to believe that Skakal had worked in agreement with an official of the shipping and packaging company responsible for shipping his container, specifically with a view of exploiting the privileges of his honorary office to illegally export artefacts from the country of Egypt, without informing the government and with the help of accomplices working inside Egypt.

Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal's whereabouts are currently not known. He was last known to have returned to Rome.  The mandate of the former honorary consul expired in 2014 and since then, Skakal has no longer had ties to the Italian embassy in Cairo. 

January 20, 2020

Trial begins with the testimony of witnesses in the case against Raouf Boutros Ghali, while Egypt continues to seek the arrest of Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor, Ladislav Otakar Skakal

Image Credit Al Dostor News
During a court hearing on Sunday, January 19, the Cairo Criminal Court of Abdin, headed by Counselor Mohamed Ali Mostafa El-Feky, began hearing the first of witness testimony in the trial against Raouf Boutros Ghali and others on various charges related to the smuggling of Egyptian antiquities into Europe.  During that hearing the Egyptian prosecution layed out its investigation into the case into the smuggling of 21,855 Egyptian artifacts which had earlier been seized by Italian authorities. 

Holding passports for Italy and San Marino, the defendant, Raouf Boutros Ghali, has been held in custody as a flight risk since his original arrest, February 14, 2019 and was seen held in a caged dock during throughout sunday's proceedings.  While his trial is underway, the Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek had previously requested precautionary custody pending the conclusion of his trial for his alleged involvement in the the scheme to illegally export Egyptian heritage in contradiction of the country's laws.  

In total some 21,660 coins along with 195 artifacts were seized, some of which include 151 miniature figurines made of faience, 11 pottery vessels, 5 mummy masks, some gold-plated, 3 islamic era ceramic tiles, 2 canopic jar heads, two wooden decorative objects, and a wooden sarcophagus. 



In statements given to the court via council the defendant Mr. Raouf Boutros Ghali confirmed he would be fighting the charges against him and represented that he had inherited the exported pieces from his grandfather, Boutros Ghali Pasha, the first Coptic Prime Minister from 1908 to 1910.  It should be noted that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is the institution entrusted with the protection of the Egyptian heritage in accordance with article 8 of the Antiquities Protection Act of Law No. 117 of 1983 which states:

Anyone owns any archaeological object in accordance with the provisions of this Law must notify the Council of such object within six months starting from the beginning of March 2010 provided that such persons are required to preserve such objects until the Council registers it.
Early, on May 25, 2018, Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that while the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's antiquities registries. 

On Saturday, the prosecution also underlined its September 17, 2019 demand for the rapid arrest of Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor,  Ladislav Otakar Skakal. Egyptian authorities had requested that Skakal be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in this case as the ancient objects were discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, when it came through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  

January 8, 2020

27 individuals investigated in Italy involved in online transactions of illicit objects plus a curious research method for identifying illicit antiquities


Those who purchase illicit art works come in all walks of life.  Some buyers are medical professionals, some are lawyers, and some are wealthy entrepreneurs.  These are just a few of the profiles of the 27 individuals from Bari and Foggia under investigation following an operation carried out by the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Unit in Bari.



Some of the objects recovered included:

140 archaeological finds datable from 300-400 B.C.E. 
200 fragments largely attributable to the area of ​​Magna Grecia 
30 ancient weapons including one supplied to the Bourbon army and another to the papal troops 
and a 16th century bronze cannon cast in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Yet, searching for those co-involved, did not just include the monitoring of commercial websites dedicated to the sale of ancient and historic objects.  During a six month long investigation, led by Major Giovanni Di Bella, Carabinieri TPC officers used an interesting and creative approach.  

While monitoring websites used for the buying and selling of art, officers from the TPC also turned their eyes to websites advertising tony residential property for sale in Italy. By studying real estate photos of the interiors of these properties, the carabinieri were able to identify houses that contain works of art, photographed in their pride of place locations, inside some of southern Italy's luxurious homes.

Giving it a try myself, within a few clicks I too, easily found photos depicting ancient art, displayed and photographed in plain view within residential settings while randomly checking advertisements for villas within the Rome market. Keeping in mind that a photo alone does not define an object's legitimacy or illegitimacy, these types of reviews can provide an interesting starting point for investigators.  

Image screengrab saved from a Rome property weblisting  
As a simple hypothetical illustration of the methodology, I identified a photo of the villa interior inside a 20-room estate for sale within the Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica, along the main Roman road that started in 312 B.C.E.  This property dates to the 1800s, so the ancient objects photographed would most likely have been uncovered during the establishment of the structure and should therefore have a proper pedigree.  But how to know for sure?

A further search about the history of the property reveals that the house was built on the remains of an ancient basalt quarry which provided material for the Regina Viarum and was once owned by Carlo Ponti, an Italian film producer and husband of the actress Sophia Loren.  Sitting just 300 meters from the tomb of Cecilia Metella and a 10 minute drive away from the Colosseum, it isn't possible to understand which, if any, of the objects shown on the property listings are part of the original holdings of the property and which might have been purchased on the ancient art market by the filmmaking couple, or it's subsequent owner, Giorgio Greco.  If the 100 Roman artifacts and sculptures documented in this sale form the collection of the original property owner, they would/should have been duly reported to the Superintendency.

That said, tweezing out what is licit vs possibly licit is where the expertise of the Carabinieri is required and their novel approach to identifying ancient art perhaps purchased unawares by individuals who may or may not have failed to do their due diligence, is an interesting one.  One thing is for sure, monitoring photographs like these on real estate sites can give law enforcement a greater understanding of who has legitimate works of ancient art, and on occasion, as the Bari investigation demonstrates, may also provide leads in who is dealing in or purchasing illicit material.  This in turn can help lead law enforcement to dealers and middlemen suppliers transacting in illicit art.

Food for thought. A beautiful photo can mean different things to different people. 

December 21, 2019

Mysterious Museum Theft Recovery. The long-missing shield gifted to Italy's General Garibaldi has been recovered in Rome.


This week, officers from the operational department of Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale and the Rome Gianicolense Station have recovered an important ornamental bronze shield.  The object,  gifted as a sign of gratitude to Giuseppe Garibaldi by the citizens of Sicily in May 1878 was donated to Rome by Garibaldi and first kept in the Capitoline Museum.  Later it was transferred to the National Museum of the Risorgimento located inside the Palazzo del Vittoriano (the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument) complex, where at some point, it disappeared from the collection approximately twenty years ago. 

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Spanning some 118 centimeters in diameter, the shield was no small thing for a thief or disgruntled employee to have walked off with undetected.  Crafted by Antonio Ximenes, the shield weighs in at close to 50 kilograms.  Intricately decorated, it  illustrates eight engraved allegorical groups which bear the coat of arms of Italy's most important cities.  At the shield's center, the easily recognizable shield boss, or umbo, depicts a likeness of Garibaldi himself. Even more identifiable, the entire shield was etched with a laurel wreath where the names of all 1089 "Mille di Marsala" were engraved.

Given how recognizable this Italian patriot and soldier of the Risorgimento was, and how well published the shield is, having been the subject  of engravings and detailed in various exhibition documents, fencing the historic object after its theft
from the museum would have likely drawn considerable attention.  Instead, the shield simply vanished without a trace, only to resurface in the news as having been located in the private residence of a yet unnamed "Rome architect".  

Given that the squad is usually quick to name individuals involved in theft or in receiving stolen goods when it comes to thefts of Italy's cultural patrimony, it will be interesting to see if the public prosecutors name who this Rome architect is.   Moreover it is really very difficult to believe that whoever "owned" the object, they were not aware of its illegal origin.  




September 17, 2019

Egyptian prosecutor requests that former honorary consul of Italy be placed on INTERPOL’s red notice list

Image Credit: https://www.radiolfc.net/tag/m-skakal/
Today, Egyptian Attorney General Nabil Ahmed Sadek ordered the arrest of Italy's former honorary consul in Luxor, Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal and requested that his name be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in smuggling 21,855 artifacts from the port of Alexandria.  The objects were discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, sent through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  The mandate of the former honorary consul expired in 2014. Since then, Otakar has no longer had ties to the Italian embassy in Cairo. 

On May 25, 2018 Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's antiquities registries.  This meant that the ancient objects in the container, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic, as well as the Islamic era, had not been stolen from any known museum collection, but were likely the unrecorded finds of clandestine excavations of archaeological sites, possibly from the area near the Nile Rover city of Minya in Upper Egypt, 250 kilometers south of Cairo.  The objects were restituted to The Arab Republic of Egypt on  July 30, 2018.

Widely known as INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization's colour-coded "Notices" are law enforcement communication tools used to enable INTERPOL's 194 member countries to share alerts and requests for information worldwide on missing persons, criminal activity and criminals who are believed to have fled to other jurisdictions to try to evade justice. Created to enhance worldwide police cooperation, a Yellow notice is an alert to help locate missing persons.  A Red notice is effectively a request by a member country to other countries asking for help in locating and making a provisional arrest pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action on a person wanted in a criminal matter.  No country however is obliged to act on the notice and INTERPOL itself recognizes that "each member country decides for itself what legal value to give a red notice within their borders".


Raouf Boutros Ghali who holds passports from Italy and San Marino, is the brother of the former Egyptian Minister of Finance, Youssef Botros Ghaly whose served in that role under then President Hosni Mubarak from 2004 to 2011.  He is also the nephew of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1992 to December 1996 who died in 2016.  

The Egyptian Public Prosecutor also ordered the search of the Italian defendant's residence in Cairo as well as his bank's safe deposit box.  In carrying out this search warrant, other artifacts belonging to the Egyptian civilization were subsequently seized.  

June 12, 2019

A look at art crime through the eyes of some of ARCA's 2019 postgraduate participants

By Alexander Taylor, ARCA 2019 Participant 

Alexandra is a paintings conservator and a George Alexander Foundation Fellow which supports a range of fellowship opportunities for secondary, vocational students and post-graduates through leading national organisations. Her blog, ‘The Art of Value’, seeks to track her personal trajectory through the arena of art crime and cultural heritage protection.


The Road to Salvation

The XVI canto of Homer’s Iliad describes a touching episode of the Trojan War: the death of Sarpedon, son of Zeus and the king of the Lycians. This epic scene majestically drapes the surface of the infamous Euphronios krater, stolen in the ‘70s from one of Cerveteri’s necropolis’ and reappearing years later on the squeaky-clean shelf of a New York museum. Here marks the moment when the vase first set foot on the road to salvation.

The story began with the illegal excavation of an Etruscan tomb in the area of ​​Greppe Sant'Angelo in the municipality of Cerveteri. When the tombaroli (tomb robbers) pulled the vase out of the ground they must have known they’d struck gold. The krater, large enough to hold seven galleons of liquid, was “thrown” by the potter Euxitheos and then decorated exquisitely by the painter Euphronios. Let me digress: Euphronios is one of two or three of the greatest masters in Greek vase painting. ‘His works are so rare that the last important piece before this one had been unearthed as long ago as 1840’[1]. Todeschini and Watson quote art historian Hovers in the following grandiloquent statement, ‘To call [the vase] an artifact is like referring to the Sistine Ceiling as a painting.’ 

A significant find? Uh, yes.

Having done the deed the tombaroli then got in touch with an important American merchant, the result of their exchange being 125 million lire – no questions asked [2]. The monstrous trail of fictitious provenance documentation grew tenfold as the Euphronios krater journeyed from Cerveteri to America via an extensive array of dealers and restorers to mega-rich middlemen and some say red-handed museum officials. Here it underwent a number of unsuccessful sales before a scholar, who proposed himself as an intermediary for selling to the New York museum, generously took care of “the problem”. The vase sold for an extravagant US$1 million, the first time such a price was paid for an antiquity.[3] It was only when one of the tombaroli caught wind of the sale, realised he’d been slighted, and turned whistleblower by alerting the appropriate authorities that the subsequent Carabinieri investigation gained momentum.

If anyone is interested in this story and has not yet read The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, I suggest you get online and purchase a copy now. Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini have compiled a narrative that analyses the art market and its main players in all their multi-faceted, devastating glory. Each chapter reads like a journalistic article, thoroughly well researched and compelling, and together they interlock to present a tightly composed chain of events that unravel the workings of a well-oiled art crime machine. It is deliciously composed – I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the underground antiquities market.

At this point you may be wondering how the “underground antiquities market” functions within Australia, or indeed how Australian legislation handles offences relating to art crime when compared to the Italians and their Carabinieri. Art crime covers ‘forgery and fraud, theft and extortion, money laundering, and document and identity fraud’ and yet Australia has no specialist art and cultural property investigation unit that deals with this rather expansive and complex “grey-area” in law [4]. Imagine coming across an otherwise reputable art dealer who is in the process of selling an ancient rock art tool that you know has come out of the Kimberley’s illegally. You can’t get in touch with an Australian “art fraud squad” because there isn’t one. So whom do you turn to?

To handle cases of art looting, loss and theft, Australians have to operate through one of nine different authorities, for example the Federal and State Police Services, the Interpol National Bureau, Austac & etc. These authorities are responsible for the investigation of crime, in its entirety, and thus operate with a combination of statute and common law. Traditional modes for investigation, such as interviewing the witnesses or obtaining statements, become ‘ineffective’ in cases of art crime because the investigatory trail ‘tends to lack documentary evidence, which conventional fraud inquiries rely upon’[5]. Hopefully I haven’t bored you with the details, but I believe it’s important that you know where we stand.

Let’s conclude today’s post with a round-trip back to the Euphronios krater. On Wednesday the 5th of June, we took a class excursion into Rome for the L’Arte Di Salvare L’Arte exhibition at the Quirinal Palace. We were told the krater was on display here, amongst a number of other salvaged Italian heirlooms. Not quite comprehending the wonders promised, I felt my jaw drop rather comically upon entering the first room. We’d just walked into a trove of repatriated treasures. Stumbling past the only complete Capitoline Triad, stolen from the Tenuta dell’Inviolata in 1992; and the Il giardiniere by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen in 1998 from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome; I came face to face with the pair of fourth century marble griffins, stolen from the tomb of Ascoli Satriano in 1976. The last time I saw this artefact was in a Polaroid photograph taken by the tombaroli, a shot that evidently showed the griffins stuffed haphazardly into the boot of a car – still encrusted with the residue of their recent earthy bed.

Alexander Taylor listening to Fabrizio Rossi on the illicit excavation of
La Triade Capitolina
And, wide-eyed, we rounded the corner and arrived at the Euphronios krater standing stoically to the left in a room full of salvaged Etruscan relics.


The moment has been rather difficult to translate into words, so instead I’ll post a couple of pictures that best represent my impression of the matter. The image below depicts the “big fish”; the man who orchestrated the whole dirty, shameful transaction – from tombaroli to middlemen to the museum in New York – whilst plying his trade comfortably in Corridor 17 at the Geneva Freeport. Here he stands triumphantly in front of an airtight American enclosure that houses the Euphronios krater in a land far, far away from the tomb it was looted from. The second has me standing with an even bigger grin on my face, a grin that comes from knowing full well that whatever this “big fish” instigated back in the 70s the krater eventually made its way back home, leaving behind a shattered reputation and an open, gaping hole in the criminal art market.

To read more of Alex's musings on the art world, please visit her blog, The Art of Value

______________________________

[1] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[2] Ministry per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (2019), L’Arte di Salvare L’Arte. Frammenti di Storia d’Italia, museum pamphlet, Palazzo del Quirinale, Roma.

[3] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[4] James M (2000), ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 1.

[5] James M 2000, ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 4.