Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. 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 20, 2020

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch - four plus four more


Last Wednesday ARCA wrote about four canopic jars of Djed-Ka-Re, Vizier of Upper Egypt coming up for auction with Gorny & Mosch in Germany which at one point in history had been embezzled from Austria's Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna.  This week it seems that another four suspect antiquities coming from Italy, have also been identified.  These artefacts, an Etruscan bronze figurine and several Greek vases, have been withdrawn from the same upcoming 22 July 2020 Antiquities & African Art auction pending further review but are known to have been linked to dealers who handled illicit artefacts.  

In addition to their incomplete provenance histories, which make many of the Lots in this upcoming sales catalogue difficult to identify as licit or illicit, all four of the current suspect objects at Gorny & Mosch have come up for auction in such a way that claims for their restitution cannot be easily asserted.  This gap in how the German market operates allows tainted foreign cultural assets to continue in circulation, moving from one auction house in one country to another auction house in another, where they are sold and resold in jurisdictions where the statute of limitations is more favorable to the seller than to the source country. 

While  Dr. Hans-Christoph von Mosch of Gorny & Mosch has been quoted as saying “Gorny & Mosch deliberately (withdrew) the four items for further research,” this action apparently only occurred after notification that there was a problem with the objects' pedigree.  One has to ask what, if any, initial research was conducted prior to listing the objects, if further research is needed now. 

ARCA hopes that by continuing to emphasize when suspect antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in this Gorny & Mosch auction, art market actors might strive to act more responsibly, turning down circulating objects which are already known to be problematic, rather than allowing them to continue circulating onward to less than knowledgable collectors who the market should be actively advocating for and not taking advantage of. 

July 16, 2020

When a church loses its Madonna can cultural diplomacy help her find her way back home?

On 9 July 1985 the Parish Church of San Felice Martire, located in S. Felice a Cancello, Italy suffered a horrendous loss.  Their gilded wooden statue, depicting the Madonna covered with a golden mantle and with the royal diadem on her head, holding the baby Jesus who is giving a blessing, was stolen.  Then in the copy put in her place was also stolen.

The original fourteenth-century ecclesiastical treasure, venerated by the Sanfelicians, soon found its way into the international underground and was smuggled out of Italy.  A short while later, in 1988 it popped up on the German art market. Yet, like thousands of other stolen Italian treasures, retrieving stolen art in Germany is no easy task, especially once that artwork has been laundered into the hands of a private individual as the country's laws try to balance the interests of the victim of theft of art and the interests of the good-faith acquirer.

Despite international letters rogatory, Italy's claim was rejected as inadmissible by the German authorities and, in 2000, Interpol Wiesbaden confirmed to the Italians that the current holder had bought the work in good faith, closing the door to the possibility of restitution.

According to the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated BGB, which is the civil code of Germany § 935 there is no good-faith acquisition of title for stolen bewegliche cache ("movable property") as the owner (in this case the church) has not parted with his direct possession deliberately, so that the third person (thief) shall not have the benefit of the appearance of entitlement through possession under such circumstances.  However, anyone who acquires said property in good faith and has maintained this work in his or her possession for at least 10 years, while continuing to be in good faith, automatically acquires valid title. 

Likewise in Germany if the thief, upon his or her death was not in good faith but his heirs "inherit" the stolen property unknowingly and in good faith, the heir also can also acquire legal title after 10 years from the point of inheritance.  Legal title of a stolen work of art can also transfer to the good-faith acquirer if the work of art is sold in public auction (section 935(2), CC).

All this to say that the push by Italy's parliamentarians Margherita Corrado, Vilma Moronese, Luisa Angrisani, Danila De Lucia, Bianca Laura Granato, Vincenzo Presutto and Orietta Vanin made in April to Dario Franceschini,  Italy's Minister for Cultural Goods and Activities and Tourism (MiBact), encouraging him to engage directly with Monika Grütters, Germany's Commissioner for Culture and the Media, to honor the request of the patrons of church of San Felice Martyr,  is, for now, purely an exercise in cultural diplomacy.  Whether or not this soft parliamentary request will go farther than the transnational judicial one did remains to be seen.  

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. 

April 10, 2020

Friday, April 10, 2020 - ,,, No comments

While the world is shuttered for COVID-19 vandals and thieves can exploit opportunities


The city of Rome's mayor Virginia Raggi is angry, and not without good cause. 

Sometime, last sunday evening despite the stay at home orders mandated in Rome to minimise health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, someone strolling through the city's Villa Doria Pamphilj park, used the occasion to destroy the statue of Neptune, the mythical king of the sea, which once sat on the pedestal in the historic garden's theatre.

One of lessor known areas of Villa Doria Pamphili, the Garden of the Theatre was built between 1652 and 1664 and takes its name from the large semicircular exedra with its 11 reliefs which document a series of myths.  The space was intended to be used to host outdoor theatrical and musical performances and is flanked by the Nymphaeum of the Tritons.

The city park, and all parks in Rome have been  closed  to the public since March 13th as part of the city's policy during the quarantine imposed by the coronavirus emergency. Yet in the span of a week, vandals or the same vandal have not only  destroyed the statue of Neptune, but some antique decorative vases and six marble toponymic plaques between the 2nd and 3rd of April. 

Years of neglect had already wreaked havoc on the 1990's replica
Protecting the 180 hectare park has long been a challenge, an easy-to-climb-over fence, and many "blind" spaces make patrolling the park a complex endeavour. Thankfully, the statue destroyed is a 1990 replica, the original having been moved to a more secure garden attached to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, an administrative palazzo which supports the Prime Minister of Italy.

Rome's may called the destruction a shameful and intolerable gesture, even more so in a moment like the one Rome is experiencing. 

Teatro di Giardino, Villa Doria Pamphilj
Image Credit: Associazione per Villa Pamphilj
The Association for Villa Pamphilj, a grassroots nonprofit aimed at safeguarding and protecting the park, has been active in complaining about areas of the Villa's grounds in need of routine maintenance, conservation and upkeep.  They, and law enforcement, note this is not the first examples of theft and damages to the city park even before the current COVID crisis. 

The broken windows theory in criminology states that visible signs of crime,  disorder and misbehaviour in an environment encourage further disorder and anti-social behaviour, which in turn can encourage more serious crime. Untended, and in public space areas less than ideally maintained for years, the Villa Pamphilj park, and others like it, become fair game for inconsiderate people venting their frustrations with random acts of vandalism or for thieves.

April 3, 2020

Revisiting the clues of a theft: the case of the theft at the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza


Sometimes it is good to go back and review old blog posts and provide updates as it is not always possible to track every case of theft when not widely publicised, and sometimes the clues left behind by one set of thieves can be useful in examining the methods of detecting criminal actors in other thefts.  Such is the case of the theft of a small panel painting "Crucifixion and Descent into Limbo" stolen from the Italian city of Faenza.

Vestibule, Maestro of Faenza Sec. XIII
"Crucifixion and descent into limbo"
35x28 cm.  + frame 15 cm., N. inv. 98
Image Credit: Pinacoteca Comunale
di Faenza
Two years ago, on Thursday morning, March 01, 2018, a small panel painting, dating back to the 1200s attributed to the Maestro of Faenza was reported stolen from the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza.  The oldest museum in the city, the museum's collection was established in 1797, when the municipality purchased the private collection of Giuseppe Zauli, much of which centered on paintings and sculptures from the 13th to the 18th century.

The stolen panel painting, attributed to the Maestro of Faenza, depicts two scenes, the crucifixion of Christ with the cross in the center on the top portion of the panel followed by Christ's descent into limbo with angels and saints on the bottom.  The framed panel, which dates back to the thirteenth century, had been on public display in the Pinacoteca's Hall of the Vestibule, where it was hung just to the left of the Crocefisso del Maestro Francescano in Gallery 6. 

According to a televised report given at the time by Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca, the theft was discovered during a morning walkthrough by personnel who discovered the empty frame and backboard mounting discarded in the gallery where the artwork had been hung.  Given the panel painting's small size, the artwork may have been hidden under the thief's winter clothing and snatched at some point during the museum's opening hours though the date of the theft itself and the potential methodology used by the criminal was not defined publicly at the time the city announced the theft.

Recovered Sant'Ambrogio
di Giusto de' Menabuoi
Sometimes in investigative work, silence is golden. 

Fast forward to just a few months later, and the Faenza artwork was recovered, found in the home of an individual in Bologna, hidden in a piece of furniture, along with two other recently stolen paintings: a Sant'Ambrogio di Giusto de' Menabuoi stolen from the Pinacoteca di Bologna just a few days after the Faenza theft and a 17th century Portrait of a Woman stolen in mid March from the Museo Civico di San Domenico in Imola.

Reconstructing the methodology of the thefts lead to the subject being identified. 

At the time of the thefts, police kept some of the clues regarding the thief's modus operandi to themselves.  The thief which targeted the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, where a work by the artist Giusto de 'Menabuoi had been removed, stole the artwork during the museum's opening hours.  Likewise, the timing of the thefts from the Museo Civico di San Domenico and the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza had strong similarities, details, investigators preferred not to disclose to protect their investigations.

During their investigations the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of Bologna, in collaboration with the Investigative Unit of the Provincial Command and with the Companies of Faenza and Imola spent time comparing and contrasting the security footage looking for clues and similarities and were subsequently able to identify a single individual in the footage with the same physiognomy, immortalised by CCTV security cameras in the museums and in the nearby civic spaces.

Shortly after the suspect's description was identified, an individual with the same distinct physical profile was identified visiting another museum in the city of  Bologna and acting suspiciously, perhaps either casing the museum for a future theft or with the intent of stealing another painting that very day.  Interrupted from his activity, law enforcement then followed the individual back through the streets of Bologna watching him until he returned to his place of residence.

With the house identified, and with the CCTV footage to back up their hunch, a search warrant was issued by the judicial authorities and the man's house was searched.  Inside, the officers recovered not only the three historic works of art, but most importantly, the incriminating clothing worn during one of the three heists.

All the artworks were returned to their respective institutions in just under two months. Not bad.  Let's hope the recent Van Gogh theft in the Netherlands at the Singer Laren Museum has an equally expedient, and happy, ending.




February 26, 2020

Valerie Higgins returns to Amelia this summer to teach “Antiquities and Identity” 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 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. 

Valerie Higgins
Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am the Program Director for the Master’s program in Sustainable Cultural Heritage and Associate Professor in Archaeology at The American University of Rome. I am an archaeologist by training, and I began my professional career as an archaeologist working in local government before returning to university to complete a Ph.D., studying human remains from a medieval Italian monastery site.

After completing a visiting university appointment in New Zealand, I returned to work in Rome where I was lucky enough to get a tenured position at the American University. Being based in Rome, a lot of my teaching has been outside at the monuments themselves, rather than in the classroom, and it was this that first sparked my interest in cultural heritage. The daily contact with the monuments and witnessing the issues of caring for such a massive patrimony, gradually led to me becoming more and more involved in that side of archaeology. Looting of antiquities is a huge problem in Italy and it has deep historical roots. An important part of tackling looting is to understand the societal context in which it takes place.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

The course incorporates discussion of contentious issues that are currently in the news, such as the role of museums and their obligation (or not) to reflect social issues, decolonization of heritage and museums, issues of identity politics relating to ownership, etc. Those of us who are engaged in protecting heritage need to get involved in these debates and we need to ensure that the discussion are well informed. This is increasingly difficult in an era of fake news and short soundbites.

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

I hope participants will understand the broader context behind art crime and will feel a greater engagement with topical issues. I hope that they will have a more profound understanding of the background to current disputes. Increasingly, journalistic sources present arguments in a very one-sided way and reduce complex arguments to emotive headlines. I hope that participants will appreciate more the complexity and long history that underlies many current issues.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

My classes are very interactive. I like everyone to contribute to class discussions from their own experiences. Every year at ARCA we get participants from all over the world, with diverse professional and personal backgrounds so when we are discussing issues we can get many different viewpoints, and this is very stimulating.

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

A huge amount! I encourage everybody to take the topics we cover in the class and apply them to situations they face in their professional lives back home. As a result, I get to hear about new places, new disputes, new heritage sites, new groups and it is always fascinating to me. I regularly incorporate in my teaching at the American University information I have gained from ARCA participants and in that way I hope that I spread the knowledge.

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

I enjoyed the book ‘Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum’ by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. It is written by two journalists, not academics, but it conveys very well the attitudes that were current in the museum world in the last part of the twentieth century and the first decade of this century and the almost total disregard for ethics that should have governed museum acquisitions. I would also recommend the BBC podcasts in the series the Museum of Lost Objects. This series looked at antiquities that were lost or looted in Iraq, Syria, India and Pakistan. I like the series because it focuses on the human cost of looting not the economic cost.

What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique?

The people! Every year we get an incredible mix of people taking and teaching the courses in the program and then, of course, during the conference this number increases dramatically. The setting in Amelia also makes the program special. Amelia is a small intimate setting where it is easy to meet people outside of class, over a coffee.

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

I am very interested in Marc Balcells course because he studies art crime as a sociological phenomenon rather than on an individual case by case basis. I believe this aspect is very underdeveloped. Although we will always need law enforcement as a backstop, the greatest impact on reducing art crime is to have a greater understanding of the underlying social forces. Very few people do this and Marc does it so well.

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

Amelia is set in beautiful countryside and there are some great walks and picnic spots in the countryside outside the walls. Don’t think that you always have to get on a bus or train to have a great day out!

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

Italians certainly have their own ways of doing things which often seem incomprehensible to foreigners. It is not uncommon to go to see something that is supposed to be open and you find it isn’t. However, if you ask around there may be someone who can help you to get in or you might find something else to see that you did not even know existed. Italy is full of fantastic sites that are not in any guidebook or on any website, you may end up having an even better day out. It pays to be flexible and laid back.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June? 

I find the conference a very useful way to catch up with what is going on in the field and also people working in the field. The refreshments breaks are almost as valuable as the presentations. To my knowledge, no other conference has such an eclectic mix of people from museums, law enforcement and academia.

Anything else…. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself in Amelia!


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

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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.

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 17, 2020

Marc Balcells comes to Amelia this summer to teach on the criminology of art crimes 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 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy.

In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. This week I meet professor Marc Balcells, one of the world’s leading scholars on art crime.

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am a professor at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and an associate professor at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). I teach criminology and criminal law. I hold degrees in Criminology, Law and Human Sciences, as well as a Masters in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. I also hold a PhD in Criminal Justice. My research focuses mostly around transnational and organized crime, mostly related to cultural heritage crime, among other topics in criminology that I am researching as we speak, such as sexual abuse in the church and cybercrime.

What do you feel is most relevant about your course? 

The course changed drastically last edition. Before, it was all about criminological theory applied to cultural heritage crime. But I felt a responsibility with my students regarding teaching them how to design and conduct good research in this field, always within a criminological angle.  That is, instead of piling up information on any given art crime that will probably be collected from books and newspapers, the course gives participants tools to conduct serious quantitative or qualitative research and learn how to design a research project within the field of cultural heritage crime. Challenging participants to see what serious research they are able to conduct in order to improve our knowledge on this field is essential! And of course, in the meantime participants not only learn about cultural heritage crime but also about criminology and criminological theory, using other crimes as examples of crime in general, as it is one of our everyday realities that we must live with. Last edition we worked with seminal articles and books that explored cultural heritage crime: in 2020 we have more new articles and academic books exploring forgeries, art theft or looting (to name a few) which are important as they can be used by students to see how research is being conducted in this field.

The 2019 class with Marc Balcells..
What do you hope participants will get out of the courses? 

A fascination for a criminological point of view when analyzing cultural heritage crime, as well as an enchantment with the field of criminology and a fascination for the craft of research. Again, it is very important to have a knowledge not only about the existing literature but also on how to produce more research like the one that is being disseminated in conferences and academic journals and books. I do hope to train more and more serious and disciplined researchers in this fascinating field.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

A dialogue between myself and the students. I do ask a lot of questions in order to prompt debate: getting to know what participants think about on different topics is very enriching. But I also like to challenge them and to see how they research art theft, or looting, to name two crimes, by giving them research examples and seeing how they would improve them or simply do things differently. Gathering data on cultural heritage crime is not always easy (on the contrary!) and we researchers struggle finding them: the opinion of the students is always valuable.
The Palgrave Handbook on Art Crime..
While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your course, is there anything that you learn from them in class?

So many things! Go figure: as I said, over the years I gather brilliant insights from students that are original and intelligent. Participants must know that before I became a professor in this degree, I was a student in it: I have sat on both sides of the classroom and, therefore, I do know what is to be a student and what I wanted from a professor when I was studying. I am not only a professor on the ARCA Program but I am a graduate of it! 

I am inquisitive by nature, but much more in class. I love to ask questions and see their points of view. Also, I do love to meet with the participants after classes and enjoy a tea with them while chatting about art crime in general or helping them with their projects.

In anticipation of your course, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to the participants? 

In my case, I would recommend that they read academic research produced by scholars in whichever field of cultural heritage crime they are interested in. I can assure you that they are as fascinating as any other art crime book that is being written by journalists, for example. Therefore, I would recommend they read everything that interests them, but mainly within academia. Right now I am reading the Trafficking Culture’s book Trafficking Culture: New Directions in Researching the Global Market in Illicit  Antiquities, and Hufnagel and Chappell’s The Palgrave Handbook on Art Crime, both new additions to academic literature published in 2019.

Field trips..
What makes the annual ARCA program so unique?

Let’s say it like this: it is the intensity. Where else can you learn so much, working with top experts in this field? It is intensive and complete and, at the same time, it immerses you in the local culture of Amelia! Field trips organized by the program gives participants the in-depth experience needed to grasp most of the subjects discussed in the courses. It is the perfect setting!

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

So many. Since I was once an ARCA participant myself, new courses have developed, and I would love, especially, to attend Professor Christos Tsirogiannis’ course on the hidden market of illicit antiquities. I admire his work and he is a great colleague. He was a great help with my earlier research and I could not be more grateful. He is widely acknowledged as an expert in the field and his media attention and the scope of his work is simply amazing! Again, it is the living proof of what I mentioned in my previous answer. Learning all about antiquities trafficking with Professor Tsirogiannis in Italy is an opportunity not to be missed!

Amelia...
Is there anything you can recommend to future participants of things to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Come with an open and ready mind. Learn the culture of the place in which you will be living during your summer there. And be ready to learn a lot: work hard and there can be fantastic rewards afterwards. It is a fantastic field and it requires more and more trained minds to work in it!

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

Indeed! We are still good friends after all these years, with my colleagues. We have so many good memories with the locals, the professors, etc: after all, it is a summer-long experience. The food, the setting, the people... everything counts!

What is your experience with the annual ARCA conference in June? 

Sadly, I am always immersed teaching courses at that time and I cannot attend as much as I would like to, but I hope to change this in the near future. I have presented and attended years ago, and it is overwhelming being able to meet colleagues in this field and getting to know their research and the latest advances. These are very intense days: it is not only the conference, but the networking involved, in every single meeting. And of course, some fun to be had too, as the dinners and lunches are always fantastic!

Anything last thoughts? 

I would like to end this interview by saying that I am looking forward, as every year, to meeting our new cohort. I always come back to Amelia and ARCA with a fluttering heart, knowing I will get to meet and get to know new participants, see again some old friends, and spend days teaching and talking about cultural heritage crime.

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.

Recovered 'Portrait of a Lady' by Gustav Klimt deemed authentic by Italian Experts.


The painting known as 'Portrait of a Lady' by Gustav Klimt, which was recovered last December, after being discovered hidden in a utilities box attached to the Galleria d'Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi in Piacenza, has been deemed authentic by Italian experts.  During a press conference held today Prosecutor Ornella Chicca told reporters: "It is with no small emotion that I can tell you the work is authentic." 

The painting had been stolen in February 1997. Yet, despite many leads, as well as talks with a local art thief who claimed he had stolen the original while it still hung in the gallery, replacing it with a duplicate, the artwork remained missing for nearly 23 years.   That is until it was found on the very same grounds from which it disappeared.

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.