Showing posts with label Christos Tsirogiannis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christos Tsirogiannis. Show all posts

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

March 26, 2019

A humorous look at life in Amelia from the eyes of a former participant

A medieval town & its secret passageways
by Summer Clowers, ARCA Alumna

WARNING: this essay is a work of satire.  It will be best understood if read in the voice of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, from Downton Abbey.

As an ARCA alumna, I have come to warn you about all of the things that you will hate about this small program on art crime. In that vein, I here offer you a list of the woes of living in a small Umbrian town the likes of which will keep you up at night as you scroll through old Facebook photos.  A letter of warning, if you will, to all prospective ARCA-ites. Should you choose to ignore my advice, I cannot be responsible for the consequences.

Your first few days in Amelia will leave you with an intense urge to explore and make friends.  The town is ancient, surrounded on most sides by a Neolithic wall with even more history buried beneath it.  There are secret passages and hidden rooms and you’re going to want to grab a new-found buddy and sneak through every one of them.  DON’T.  The more you explore, the more you will love the town, and it will make it that much harder to leave.  Yes, there are three secret Roman cellars to be discovered as well as an ancient Roman cistern.  Yes, the town’s people do scatter the roads with rose petals in the shape of angels once each summer.  All of these things are beside the point.  Walk steady on the path and avoid all temptations to adventure.

As for friends, stick with people that live near to you back in the real world.  I know Papa Di Stefano is fantastic, and yes, he will befriend you in a way that transcends language, but do you really want to miss him when you’ve gone?  And your fellow students?  Well, most of them are going to live nowhere near you.  Do you really need to have contacts in Lisbon and Melbourne and New York and Amsterdam?  No, you don’t.  It’s so damp in the Netherlands and we all know London is just atrocious.  I mean really, all those people. Take my advice, ignore anyone that lives far away from you.  You are here to learn and leave, not make connections that will last you the rest of forever.

You will also want to avoid the town’s locals.  Amelia is tiny, so getting to know most of its shopkeepers and inhabitants will not be very hard, but you must resist the urge to do so.  It’s true that Massimo will know your coffee order before you get fully through his door, and the Count will open his home with a smile to show you around his gorgeous palazzo, and Titi will make you the best surprise sandwich, but these things are not proper.  Do not mistake their overflowing kindness and warmth for anything other than good breeding.  And when you find yourself sobbing at the thought of saying goodbye to Monica, you can just blame your tears on the pollen like the rest of us.

Your instructors are going to be just as big of a challenge.  The professor’s are really too friendly.  I know that Noah Charney says that he’s available for lunch and the founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques squad, Dick Ellis, will happily have a beer with you, but is getting to know your professor socially really appropriate?  I mean, we’ve all attended seminars where you barely see the speaker outside of stolen moments during coffee breaks, and that’s the best way for things to go, isn’t it?  Sterile classroom experience with little to no professorial interactions is the way academic things should run.  I know I never saw any of my professor’s outside of class.  And I certainly don’t keep up with Judge Tompkins' travels through his prosaic emails; that would just be inappropriate.

And then there’s the conference.  It lasts an entire weekend.  Why would I want to attend a weekend long event where powerhouses in the field open up their brains for poor plebeians?  I mean honestly, meeting Christos Tsirogiannis at the conference will be a high point in your year, and it will be too difficult to control your nerdy spasms when Toby Bull sits down next to you at dinner.  And then, when you find out that Christos joined ARCA's teaching team in 2014, you’ll find yourself scrambling to come up with a way to take the program a second time just so you can pick his brain. Think about how much work that will be.  They aim to make this an easy experience where you rarely have to use powers of higher thinking.  This should be like the grand tour, a comfortable time away from home so that you can tell others that you simply summered in Italy. 

And the program would be so much better served in Rome.  I mean, just think on it.  You would never have to learn Italian because you’d be in a city full of tourists.  You’d get to pay three times as much for an apartment a third of the size of the one you rent in Amelia, and you wouldn’t have to live near any of your classmates.  A city the size of Rome is big enough that a half hour metro ride to each other’s places would be pretty much de rigueur.  This means you wouldn’t have to deal with any of those impromptu dinner/study salons at one another's apartments.  And there certainly wouldn’t be random class-wide wine tastings at the Palazzo Venturelli. That’s just too much socializing anyway.  It’s unseemly.

And finally, let’s talk about the classes.  Do we really care about art crime? Sure, Dick Drent is pretty much the coolest human you’ll ever meet and you will never look at a museum the same way again, and Dorit Straus somehow manages to make art insurance spectacularly interesting, but really, do we care?  Isn’t that better left to one’s financial advisor?  And the secret porchetta truck that the interns will show you as you study the intricacies of art law, could surely be found on one’s own.  Couldn’t it?  I think we would all be much better served by just watching that terrible Monuments Men movie, fawning over George Clooney and Matt Damon, and thinking about the things we could be doing all from the safety and comfort of our own homes.  I do so hate leaving home.  The ARCA program involves work, and eleven courses with fifteen different professors, and classmates that will quickly become family, well it's all so exhausting.  I mean really, tell me, does this sound like the program for you?

ARCA Editorial Note:  Late applications are still being accepted.  If you would like more information on ARCA's 2019 program please write to education (at) artcrimeresearch.org for a copy of this year's prospectus and application materials. 

February 1, 2019

Christos Tsirogiannis returns to Amelia to this summer to teach "Unravelling the Hidden Market of Illicit Antiquities: Lessons from Greece and Italy” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 14 2019, in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Christos Tsirogiannis, one of the world’s few forensic archaeologists.

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

 I studied Archaeology and History of Art at the University of Athens, then worked for several years at the Greek Ministry of Culture in various sectors including excavations as well as in the repatriations of stolen antiquities from US museums and private collections. I also worked for several years on a voluntary basis with the Greek police art squad. In late 2008 I was invited to Cambridge University to start my PhD on the international illicit antiquities network, which I completed in 2013. Since then, I have developed and broadened my research on antiquities trafficking networks through a postdoc position at the University of Glasgow, an honorary position at Suffolk, and most recently as visiting Associate Professor at the University of Aarhus.

My specialism is best described as a new form of 'forensic archaeology'; rather than excavating and analysing (e.g.) human remains, I carry out forensic-level analyses of archaeological objects and of photographic and documentary archives (from antiquities dealers) of modern trades in archaeological material to determine their true provenance.  From these I am able to reconstruct objects' collecting histories also from traces found e.g. online and in publication records. 

In carrying out this work I assist police and judicial authorities in many countries around the world regarding cases of antiquities trafficking.   Often in these I find a certain hypocrisy in the art market - which claims 'client confidentiality' - as the motive for not revealing the names of sellers and buyers, but which in many cases also serves as a cover up, off the names of convicted traffickers whose hands objects an object may have passed through, omitting problematic aspects of the collecting history in presenting objects for sale, all the while claiming to have done 'due diligence'.

What do you feel is the most relevant of your courses?

I introducee ARCA participants to a range of issues in the international illicit antiquities market, highlighting due diligence, legal aspects and challenges in provenance research. The course has profound ethical and practical implications for anyone dealing with the art market in any capacity.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses?

Primarily, inspiration. To work in the cultural heritage sector, but, with that, an understanding of the hypocrisy within the art market, academia and state authorities in dealing with the trafficking of our heritage, and (consequently) a sense of ethical responsibility when entering this field.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

Each teaching day contains two interactive lectures in which, through case studies, I focus on a particular area of the international illicit antiquities market. There are plenty of visuals and opportunities for participant research and participation (in fact this is a part of their final grade).

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

Every professor needs the fresh view of younger minds who come with straightforward questions which often highlight an aspect or a sector that has not previously been thoroughly examined in the scholarship. Several times, those ARCA participants have gone on to produce valuable academic contributions to this emerging interdisciplinary field. My course also attracts people who have prior professional experience in the antiquities market, as well as lawyers, policemen, artists and museum professionals.


In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to students? 

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (2007, 2nd edition) The Medici Conspiracy -the 'bible of the field'.


What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique?

It is the only postgraduate residential course that covers all aspects of art crimes with courses taught by experts in their field. Amelia is a very special setting - I myself look forward every year to the ten days I spend there,

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

Fake terracotta shabti-mould.
Image Credit: British Museum
I would have to prioritize the course taught by ARCA's founder, Noah Charney, because one aspect of my own research is forgeries in the antiquities market and in collections.

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

I have greatly enjoyed trips to the amazing setting of Civita di Bagnoregio and to the Etruscan cemetery of Orvieto, from where I have identified stolen antiquities... but Amelia itself has many hidden ancient and medieval gems as well as amazing pizza places (and ice-cream, says my wife)!

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside of class 

In my first teaching year we accompanied the students on the excursion to Banditaccia, the Etruscan Necropolis in Cerveteri, and every year we spend time in Rome each side of my ARCA course. Rome is a museum in itself and I have dear friends and colleagues there - Maurizio Pellegrini, Daniela Rizzo, Paolo Georgio Ferri and Cecilia Todeschini, who are all my heroes in my research area and now feel like family.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June

I attended it first in 2013 as I was awarded ARCA's prize for Art Protection and Security. Since then the conference has doubled in size and become a world-leading innovator in facilitating important discussions between academics and practitioners in the protection of cultural heritage. Both the courses and the conference owe their current impact and unique international reach to the amazing work of Lynda Albertson (ARCA CEO).

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. 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.

October 24, 2018

Court of Palermo dismisses charges of mafia association against Gianfranco Becchina.


Following a formal request by the Deputy Prosecutor for the District Anti-Mafia Directorate  Carlo Marzella, preliminary reexamination judge of of the Court of Palermo, Antonella Consiglio, has dismissed the charge of mafia association against the Castelvetrano antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  In her decision, the judge cited that the accusations used for the basis of the charge, made via testimonies given by Vincenzo Calcara, an exMafia soldier and pentito (collaborator of justice), have been deemed "unreliable". 

The link from Matteo Messina Denaro to Gianfranco Becchina is said to begin with Denaro's father, Francesco Messina Denaro, who was the capo mandamento in Castelvetrano and the head of the mafia commission of the Trapani region. Francesco Messina Denaro was believed to have been behind the theft of the famous Efebo of Selinunte, a 5th century BCE statue of Dionysius Iachos, stolen on October 30, 1962 and recovered in 1968 through the help of Rodolfo Siviero,

Image Credit: Accademia degli incerti
The informant Calcara, who gave testimony against the art dealer, is a former protege of Francesco Messina Denaro of the Castelvetrano family and has faced his own legal dramas related to his involvement in international drug trafficking and money laundering, some underworld activities which purportedly also implicated the Vatican bank.  Verbose mafia defector Calcara's claims of self importance, and connections to the upper echelons of the mafia, have lethal overtones.  In the passed he has said he was originally tasked with killing antimafia Judge Paolo Borsellino in September 1991 with a sniper rifle but was arrested before he could carry out the plot.


Involved in the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and political corruption Calcara was once offered a place in the government's witness protection program but refused.  Later the Cosa Nostra determined his whereabouts and threatened his wife if she didn't get him to stop talking to authorities.  

Back in 1992, Calcara and now deceased former drug dealer Rosario Spatola incriminated Becchina for alleged association with the Campobello di Mazara and Castelvetrano clans implying that there was a gang affiliate active in Switzerland whose role was to excavate and sell ancient artefacts on the black market.  At the time of Spatola's testimony, much of his information was also discounted as many were skeptical that he had actual knowledge or whether he invented things for his own benefit.

To dismantle Denaro's operational funding, which authorities believe has helped him remain at large as a fugitive from justice, Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA), through the Court of Trapani's penal and preventive measures section, seized all movable assets related to Becchina in November 2017 including real estate and corporate enterprises on the basis of an order issued from the District Attorney of Palermo.  This included Becchina's cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., Olio Verde srl., his olive oil production company, Demetra srl., Becchina & company srl., and Palazzo Pignatelli, once the noble residence of the family Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, which is part of the ancient Castello Bellumvider (the public part is owned by the city and houses the town hall).  Investigators also seized Becchina's land, vehicles and bank accounts.

What will happen with the seized properties and businesses remains a manner for the Preventive Measures Section of the Trapani court to decide but given his close ties with other incarcerated mafia affiliates, Becchina's story is not yet finished. 

In 1991 Sicilian building magnate Rosario Cascio became connected with Becchina's Atlas Cements Ltd., and took over as reference shareholder and director.  Before his incarceration, Cascio was a Mafia Associate to several bosses in multiple families including fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro with strong ties to the Castelvetrano family.   Known as the "cashier of Cosa Nostra." Cascio once had a hit put out on him by mobster Angelo Siino only to have Matteo Messina Denaro intervene on his behalf.  Cascio managed the family's economic activities and sub-contracts, and monopolized the concrete market and the sale of and construction equipment.  He also steered public contracts towards mafia businesses and managed an extortion racket which imposed sub contracts and labor.  

So, while there are no (longer) "reliable" statements proving Becchina is formally "affiliated" with the Castelvetrano organized crime family, his connections to other individuals who are or were, and the properties connected to joint operations with mafia collaborators, are still subject to judicial consideration.  

May 2, 2018

Auction Alert - Sotheby’s New York - a bronze Greek figure of a horse

On May 01, 2018 ARCA was contacted by Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Sotheby's auction titled 'The Shape of the Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet' scheduled for 10:00 AM EST on May 14, 2018 in New York City. The antiquities researcher had also notified law enforcement authorities in New York and at INTERPOL. 

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist has drawn attention to and identified antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.  Tsirogiannis teaches as a lecturer on illicit trafficking with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

Image Credit: ARCA
Screenshot taken 02 May 2018
Dr. Tsirogiannis noted that Lot 4 of the sale, a bronze Greek figure of a horse, lists the object's collecting history as:
Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, May 6, 1967, lot 2
Robin Symes, London, very probably acquired at the above auction
Howard and Saretta Barnet, New York, acquired from the above on November 16, 1973 .

For its literature, the auction house mentions the following text: Zimmermann, Les chevaux de bronze dans l'art géométrique grec, Mainz and Geneva, 1989, p. 178.

Through my own explorations I found that Scholar Paul Cartledge, in The Classical Review 41 (1):173-175 (1991), stated:

"Like Archaic Greek bronze hoplite-figurines (CR 38 [1988], 342), Greek Geometric bronze horse-figurines are eminently marketable (and forgeable) artefacts for which private collectors, chiefly in New York, London, Geneva and Basel, are prepared to part with a great deal of hard currency. Their (al)lure is undeniable; I have myself trekked halfway across Europe in pursuit of their elusive charm."

As if to underscore their allure, both past and present, Tsirogiannis sent along three photos of the object on auction which he conclusively matched to photos found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive. 

Three, (3) photos from the Symes -Michaelides Archive
provided by Christos Tsirogiannis

Saretta Barnet died in March of 2017.  Her husband had passed away in 1992. Collecting for more than 4 decades, the couple's collection included everything from pen and brown ink landscapes by Fra Bartolommeo, works by Goya, François Boucher, Lucien Freud, tribal art and a noteworthy collection of antiquities.  

In a December 01, 2017 article in the Financial Times, discussing this upcoming sale, their son, Peter Barnet, indicated that “his late parents bought carefully and took their time to make decisions. For that reason, they preferred not to buy at auction but from dealers.”  Apparently though, not all of those purchases were carefully vetted. 

Screenshot:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bulletin 3269091
In 1999 the family of Howard J. Barnet donated a Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 550-525 B.C.E attributed to the Hunt Painter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That object according to an article by Dr. David Gill, was relinquished by the museum via a transfer in title in a negotiation completed with the Italian Ministry of Culture on February 21, 2006 and returned to Italy in one of the first repatriation agreements between Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

While the Barnet's may have been selective in the quality of the pieces they purchased for their collection, their relationships with dealers known to have dealt in plundered antiquities such as Symes, as well as collecting transactions with private collectors such as George Ortiz, who is also known to have purchased tainted objects, leaves one to question how carefully the Barnet's vetted the objects they acquired.

Given that the bronze Greek figure of a horse appears in photographs found in the Symes archive and the fact that at least one other object donated by the Barnet's was tied to illicit trafficking and was repatriated to its country of origin, this statue deserves a closer look.  With further research, the object and its past collecting history might lead to a link in the trafficking chain that has not yet been fully explored or considered. 

Take the provenance listed in this sales event for example.  If the object's listing of a sale at Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel in May 6, 1967 is not a fabrication, then exploring this sale in Switzerland, determining who the consignor was, might give us another name name in the looting/trafficking/laundering chain which could help us determine the country of origin and be worthwhile for law enforcement in Switzerland and New York to explore. 

At the very least, this upcoming auction notice seems to indicate that the auction house did not contact Greek or Italian source country authorities before accepting the object on consignment.  This despite the object's passage through the hands of a British antiquities dealer long-known to have been a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted antiquities. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 11, 2018

Auction Alert - Christie's Auction House - an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora and a Roman bronze boar

ARCA has been informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified two potentially tainted antiquities, scheduled to be auctioned by Christie's auction house in New York on 18 April 2018.  The antiquities researcher had notified law enforcement authorities in late March.

On April 11th, 2018 one of these objects is now listed as withdrawn from the auction.

Lot 26, an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora attributed to the Paris Painter, Circa 530 BCE. was listed in the auction documentation, before its withdrawal with an estimated sale price of $30,000-50,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Galerie Günter Puhze, Freiburg.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1993."

The second item, Lot 48, is a Roman Bronze Boar, Circa 1st-2nd Century CE., is currently still listed with an estimate sale price of $10,000-15,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Mathias Komor, New York, 1974. Christos G. Bastis (1904-1999), New York. The Christos G. Bastis Collection; Sotheby’s, New York, 9 December 1999, lot 159."

Photo from the Gianfranco Becchina archive
Exhibited: 
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Antiquities from the Collection of Christos G. Bastis, 20 November 1987-10 January 1988."

Tsirogiannis matched the black-figured neck-amphora with two Polaroid images found pasted onto a 22 June 1993 document located within the confiscated archive of Sicilian antiquity dealer Gianfranco Becchina. The white piece of paper describes the scene depicted on the object, while the two photos pasted to the document show the same antiquity prior to its restoration.  In this image, the vase is still broken into many fragments and is seen with soil and salt encrustations.   The dealers handwritten notes on the page include numeric notations and refer to an individual named "Sandro."

Becchina's archive, an accumulation of business records, seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through Becchina's network of illicit suppliers.

As those who are familiar with Peter Watson's and Cecilia Todeschini's book, The Medici Conspiracy may recall, numerous handwritten notes and lists of antiquities, invoices, and etc., found in the Becchina archive refer to Sandro Cimicchi, an artifact restorer based in Basel, Switzerland.

This is interesting in that one of the supply chain elements in Becchina's enterprise frequently foresaw a first phase of restoration on the plundered artwork, then the subsequent creation of false attestations on the antiquity's origin, made possible also through the artificial attribution of ownership to associated companies.

Cimicchi's name also appears on a comprehensive hand-written organisational chart written by dealer/trafficker Pasquale Camera which was recovered by the Italian authorities in September 1995 during a Carabinieri raid.  This ‘organigram’ has been useful to Italian investigators and cultural researchers in piecing together members of this well known trafficking TOC group.  Starting from the bottom and working your way up, this document references everyone from tombaroli, to intermediaries, to restorers, to mid-level Italian dealers (Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici), and lastly, to wealthy international dealers Robert E. Hecht and Robin Symes.

Cimicchi name has consistently been connected with illicit antiquities dealers and had been noted to have been Gianfranco Becchina's usual restorer. 

Becchina was convicted in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade yet, this antiquity's passage, through or between Becchina and Cimicchi, has not been listed in the provenance details which were published by the Christie's auction house for its upcoming sale.

Tsirogiannis informed me that the second object, the Roman bronze boar, is depicted in two separate professional images in the business archive records of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides,  two other high-profile art dealers we have written about in detail. 


The Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives were presented publicly by the Italian judicial and police authorities during the trials of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Hecht, and dozens of Italian tombaroli in Rome from 2000-2011. Like the Becchina archive, this Greek file features a stash of images seized during a raid on the Greek island of Schinousa, that once formed the stock of Robin Symes and Christo Michaelides.

Unfortunately, neither Symes nor Michaelides appear in the provenance documentation published by Christie's for the upcoming sale on the Roman bronze boar.

With regularity, objects such as these, connected to tainted antiquities dealers, known to have profited from the trafficking of illicit antiquities, appear on the licit market.  Since 2006 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist, affiliated researcher and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has, with some regularity, identified antiquities of suspect origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses, liking passages in their collection histories to Giacomo Medici, Fritz Bürki, Gianfranco Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides. 

As part of a rigorous due diligence process, auction houses are encouraged to check with the Italian or Greek authorities to ensure that the antiquities going up for auction are clean, so as not to pass tainted objects on to new owners.  Yet dealers in the art market sometimes forgo this due diligence step, as talking with the  law enforcement authorities, means they would likely be required to provide the name of the consignor, should the archive control, come up with a matching incriminating photo.  

As this poses problems of confidentiality for dealers, this step, is too frequently omitted, leaving the only way for matches to be made being when pieces like this  ancient vase, or bronze boar, or marble statue, or Roman glass bottle, eventually comes up for sale during a public auction. Given that TEFAF's newly released report states that there are more than 28,000 auction houses trading world-wide, the task of monitoring them all becomes gargantuan. 

In UNESCO's recent “Engaging the European Art Market in the Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property”  I suggested to personnel of the art market on hand for the meeting that the legal conundrum of client confidentiality could be circumvented by auction houses and dealers implementing a policy whereby the consignor themselves contacts the Italian and Greek authorities for a check of the the Medici, Bürki, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives before the auction house agrees to list these topologies of antiquities up for auction when the provenance the client has is short on clarity. This would eliminate the auction house's liability for disclosing a confidential client. 

While it might slow down the proposed sales cycle, or be an uncomfortable proactive step for good faith purchases who may have unfortunately purchased a suspect antiquity in good faith in the past, it would be the market's ethical step towards not furthering the laundering by selective omission and it would begin to help collectors understand that their purchases and eventual sales now need to be ethical ones given the onus for ethical behavior being placed on them. 

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as these seen in these two identifications, will encourage auction houses or collectors themselves to adhere to more accurate and stringent reporting requirements when listing their object's collection histories.  It is only in this way that new buyers do not continue to launder objects with their future purchases, further prolonging the damages caused by the the illicit antiquities trade.

January 25, 2018

January 24, 2018: New seizure at the residence of New York Collector Michael Steinhardt

A little more than two weeks ago, following a second set of seizures at the residence and office of Michael Steinhardt in New York City, ARCA wrote a blog post outlining other antiquities from the billionaire's private collection that have raised concerns with illicit trafficking researchers.  

One of those objects was this marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture from Sardinia. 

Image Credit: 
Manhattan district attorney's office
This idol was seized on January 24, 2018 during the execution of a new search warrant carried out by law enforcement authorities working with the Manhattan District Attorney and HSI.  The artifact was removed from Steinhardt's New York City residence.


Image Credit:  ARCA Screen Capture 
Tsirogiannis had matched the antiquity online via Christie's web version of its sale catalog to a photo contained in the confiscated archives of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  Having made the ID, Tsirogiannis emailed his concerns to US Federal law enforcement and Italian law enforcement authorities working towards eventual repatriation should Italy file a claim.  Additionally he notified ARCA, in hopes of drawing further attention to potentially trafficked pieces that often resurface on the licit market but which omit passages through the hands of known dealers involved in the sale of illicit objects.

The sales catalog for the Christies auction is stored online here, although the photo of the idol has subsequently been removed from the object's accompanying Lot description.  Of note is the addition of a brief entry into the "Cataloguing & details" section of the listing, which states only that the object was withdrawn from the sale.

The artifact above matches perfectly with the image below which Tsirogiannis located in the dealer's archive.   In the art dealer's records the statuette appeared atop a turquoise background and broken in multiple pieces, prior to the object's subsequent restoration.

Image of the Sardinian idol
from the Medici
archive 
Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt in 1997, the Ozieri Culture idol, also known as the Turriga Mother Goddess figure, passed through Harmon Fine Arts and the Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of Leonard Norman Stern, the object had been displayed, but not photographed, in a 1990 "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 when the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction, it apparently was sent back to Steinhardt, where it was later re-identified as still being part of Steinhardt's collection when officers searched his New York City home on January 5, 2018 pursuant to an earlier search warrant.

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 15, 2018

IDs from the archives in the Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art seizures

Image Credits:
Left - Symes Archive, Middle - New York DA, Right - Symes Archiv,

Earlier today ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis of matches that he has made from the confiscated archives of Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides which are related to the recent antiquities seizures made by the state of New York law enforcement authorities earlier this month.

Identifications made from these archives, confiscated by the Italian authorities (with the cooperation of the French and Swiss) and Greek police and judicial authorities, have already facilitated numerous repatriations of antiquities which have passed through the hands of traffickers whose networks are known to have plundered objects from Italy and Greece.

Of the 16 artifacts reported as seized by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office from the home and office of retired hedge-fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art, an ancient art gallery co-owned by Hicham Aboutaam in New York City, Tsirogiannis has tied 9 objects conclusively to photos in all three archives.  Several others objects might be a match, but the DA's publically released photos have been taken from differing angels or opposite sides of the objects so they remain to be confirmed.

The object at the top of this article, a Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies, seized from Michael Steinhardt's property,  matches 5 images from the archive of British former antiquities dealer Robin Symes, all of which depict the vessel from various sides.


The Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl;
the Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion;
the Corinthian Bull’s Head;
the Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head;
and the Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African;
--were each purchased by Steinhardt in either 2009 or 2011.

These 5 objects along with the Rhodian Seated Monkey seized at Phoenix Ancient Art each match photographs found in the archive of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

The Apulian Rhyton for libations in the form of a Head of an African listed in the warrant appears in a photocopied photo in the archive of antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.

It should be noted that in the joined composite image of the archive photos above, each of the six antiquities have been photographed by someone using the same light-colored hessian (burlap) material as a neutral background.  This could indicate that the antiquities where photographed by a singular individual once the objects arrived under Medici's control. Alternatively, it could mean that the ancient objects have been photographed by a singular individual who then shopped the objects, directly or indirectly, through illicit channels to Medici, who in turn, kept the photographs in his archive as part of his inventory recordkeeping.

As demonstrated by this case, each of these dealer's inventory photos provide valuable insight into the illicit trade in antiquities and which when combined, includes thousands of ancient objects from all over the world.  Many of these objects, those without documented collection histories, likely passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” the illicit objects onto the licit market.

It would be interesting to know, from the antiquities buyer's perspective, how many private investors of ancient art, having knowingly or unknowingly purchased illicit antiquities in the past, later decide to facilitate a second round of laundering themselves, by culling the object from their collection and reselling the hot object on to another collector.  By intentionally failing to disclose the name of a known tainted dealer, these antiquities collectors avoid having to take any responsibility for the fact that they too have now become players in the game.

While staying mum further facilitates the laundering of illicit antiquities, this option may be seen as far easier to collectors who have invested large sums into their collections than admitting they purchased something, unwisely or intentionally, with a less than pristine provenance pedigree.  To admit to having bought something that potentially could be looted might bring about the loss of value to the asset.  Furthermore by confirming that the antiquity has an illicit background as verified in archives like those of these traffickers, would then render the object worthless on the licit art market.  Worse still, it is likely that their antiquity would then be subject to seizure and repatriation.

By: Lynda Albertson

January 9, 2018

List of 6 (additional) objects and warrant details on objects seized from Phoenix Ancient Art by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at Phoenix Ancient Art in New York can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos also initiated seizures at Phoenix Ancient Art, New York, in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities.

The second-generation family business Phoenix Ancient Art has galleries in New York and Geneva. The business was founded by Sleiman Aboutaam in 1968 and is now operated by his sons, Hicham and Ali Aboutaam.  The Aboutaam name comes up frequently on ARCA's blog. 

The search warrants executed at 47 East 66th street resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Rhodian Seated Monkey with missing arms (the “Seated Monkey”)
Period: dating to 580-550 BCE
Measurement: 5.25 inches tall
Valued at: $150,000


B) Attic Female Head Flask (the Female Head Flask”)
Period: dating to 500-490 BCE
Measurement: 5.5 inches tall by 2 inches wide.
Valued at: $80,000


C) Ionian figural vessel representing a Siren (the”Siren Vessel”)
Period: dating to 500-525 BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $35,000


D) Teano Ware figural representing a Dove (the “Dove”).
Period: dating to 330-300 BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $25,000


E) Corinthian figural representing a Ram (the “Ram”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2 1/8 inches tall by 3 1/8 inches wide
Valued at: $20,000


F) Corinthian figural representing a Sea-Serpent with a human torso and head of a man (the “Sea-Serpent”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 1.75 inches wide
Valued at: $140,000

In addition to the antiquities, as with the seizures which were executed at Michael Steinhardt's residence and office, the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, and personal papers;

found in the premises and that constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate that the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree was committed.

List of 10 objects and warrant details on objects seized from Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's home and offices by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at the office of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

Copy of search warrant executed at the New York apartment of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, in the early morning 6:00 am chill of New York, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos initiated seizures at the office and New York City residence of Michael Steinhardt in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities. 

After a series of high-profile raids involving antiquities dealers and ancient art collections owned by private collectors, some of which have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Manhattan District Attorney's office has shown their resolve in concentrating on deterring the trade in illegal antiquities.  

According to the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017, compiled each year by Dublin-based research and consulting firm Arts Economics, the U.S. represents 29.5% percent of the world’s art market.   Classical antiquities, such as those seized in this month's raids, represent a smaller portion of that figure.

Their Manhattan DA's work, and the collaboration of multiple, mostly unpaid advising research scholars, has resulted in significant repatriations to countries where predation is a problem, including most recently a 4th century B.C.E marble torso, a 6th century BC statue of a Calf Bearer and a Marble head of a bull stolen during the 1970s from Lebanon during the that country's Civil War.

In total since 2012, the Manhattan DA's office has recovered several thousand trafficked antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million.

The search warrants executed at Michael Steinhardt's home and office resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.  
Period: approximately 420 BCE.  
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.  
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006. 


B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.  
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE 
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.  
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009. 


C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011. 


D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide. 
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009. 


E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.


F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.


G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide. 
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide. 
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


I) Corinthian Bull’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”). 
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide. 
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”). 
Period: unknown
Measurement: 6.3 inches tall by 9.4 wide. 
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

In addition to the antiquities the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all computers, as defined by Penal Law  § 156.00(1) or electronic storage devises capable of storing any of the above described property as well as their components and accessories, including, but not limited to, cords, monitors, keyboards, software, programs, disks, zip drives, flash drives, thumb drives, and/or hard drives;

any and all books, manuals, guides, or other documents containing Information about the operation and ownership of a computer, cellular telephone, camera, video recorder, video game console or other electronic storage device present in the target location, including, but not limited to, computer cellular telephone and software user manual;

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, personal papers, video footage, and stored electronic communications or data, whether recorded in physical documents are stored digitally as information and images contained in computer disks, DC or DVD ROMs, USB drives and hard drives that may be found at the target premises;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish Michael Steinhardt’s intent to commit the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree per which tend to establish his state of mind prior to and during the commission of said crime;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish (directly or indirectly) Michael Steinhardt’s knowledge that Steinhardt has committed the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree namely the possession of stolen or illicitly trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish that Michael Steinhardt is a person in the business of buying, selling, or otherwise dealing in property, specifically art and antiquities;

any and all documentation or non-privileged communications indicative of or pertaining to inquiries made by Michael Steinhardt, or the lack thereof, that the persons are entities from whom he obtained any art or antiquities had the legal right to possess said items;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which contain any references to he purchase, and/or sale, and/or possession of looted, stolen, or illegally trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation tending to identify, and/or connect Michael Steinhardt with accomplices, co-conspirators, possible accomplices and/or witnesses to the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree;

The aforementioned white collar crimes or theft offenses mentioned in the New York search warrant are described below: 

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree – NY Panel Law 165.54

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000,000.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in Second Degree – NY Penal Law 165.52

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $50,000.

There are four legal presumptions associated with New York Penal Law 165.55, the following is the most likely relevant one in this case:


  1. A person who knowingly possesses stolen property is presumed to possess it with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof. This presumption is often referred to as recent exclusive possession.” There has been a tremendous body of case law addressing this presumption which argues for the position that if an accused has had the exclusive possession of stolen property after a theft crime has been perpetrated and there is evidence or circumstances which show an inability to explain where the property came from, a negative inference may in fact be drawn. That inference being that there is a strong likelihood that the accused knew that the property he or she possessed was stolen.
By:  Lynda Albertson