Showing posts with label Symes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Symes. Show all posts

July 2, 2019

Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Apulian red-figure janiform kantharos?

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
On July 01, 2019 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Bonhams auction house in London at its flagship London saleroom on New Bond Street on July 3, 2019.  This ancient Greek drinking vessel, has two faces looking in opposite directions, one of a satyr and one of a woman and has been identified as traceable to a document and photo within the confiscated Becchina archive and to two showroom photos found within the Symes-Michaelides archives.  

Since 2007 Dr. Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has worked to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the archives of individuals known to be involved in the illicit trade of antiquities. Tsirogiannis is also the incoming Associate Professor and an AIAS-COFUND Junior Research Fellow (2019-2022) at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Aarhus.
  

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
Vases made by the Iliupersis Painter's workshop were the forerunners to the later Apulian polychrome head vases that were produced throughout the second half of the fourth century before Christ in what is now Italy.  Yet a screenshot of the provenance/collection history listed by Bonham's is scarce and tells nothing about the vessel's discovery or its passage out of Italy.  In fact the auction house's collection history only goes back to 1991 when it appeared as Lot 161 in a Sotheby's New York auction via an anonymous seller on the 18th of June.  This and the mention of Merrin Gallery and an unnamed private collector are all the potential buyer has to go on.   No information is listed on the auction house's website regarding the ancient object's exportation from its country of origin or any checks possibly made with the Italian Carabinieri to ensure this object is not part of the Italian's known databases of suspect objects. 

Becchina Archive Image
According to records reviewed by Tsirogiannis, a handwritten note in the Becchina archive, possibly written by Gianfranco Becchina himself, makes mention of a ‘janiform’ purchase along with other antiquities acquired via middleman Raffaele Monticelli.  The purchase price listed is 60,000 Italian lire and the sale appears to have occurred on March 5, 1988.  All the antiquities listed in this purchase acquisition from Monticelli total 290,000 Italian lire, with the kantharos being the most expensive ancient object in the transaction.

Raffaele Monticelli's role in the illicit antiquities trade is concretised in the now famous illicit trafficking organogram which mentions key individuals associated with Italy's largest known trafficking group.  He was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to four years imprisonment at the Foggia Tribunal for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities  His conviction occurred a little more than a decade after the kantharos appears to have surfaced in the US market in 1991.  

A retired elementary teacher, who gave up teaching for the more lucrative roll of middleman dealer, Raffaele Monticelli is a name well known to the Italian Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Command of the Cosenza and Bari nuclei.  His most recent arrest occurred in 2017 in connection with clandestine excavations of archaeological sites in the Crotone area. At the time of the more recent 2014-2017 investigation, Monticelli's residence was searched and illicitly excavated objects were seized, including some ancient terracotta figurines and a biansata kylix of Greek origin. This new event shows that the trafficker continued to violate Italian law despite prior arrests and convictions well into his golden years.

But returning to the past and to the Bonhams kantharos currently set for sale later this week.

On the trafficking organogram Monticelli is listed just above the territories where he plied his trade: the regions of Puglia, Calabria, Campania, and Sicilia.  This illustrates that he was active in the region where this kantharos was likely produced.  The organogram also specifies that Monticelli was an important part of the Southern Italy cordata which lead upwards to Robert (Bob) Hecht via Gianfranco Becchina and downward to Aldo Belleza.

This connection is further confirmed by testimony given by Frédérique Marie Nussberger-Tchacos, after her arrest in Cyprus in 2002. Tchacos, who also goes by the name Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos, as well as by Frida Tchacos Nussberger, once oversaw the now liquidated Galerie Nefer AG and was once a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA).  Speaking to Italian Prosecutor Paolo Giorgo Ferri, who issued the international arrest warrant for Tchacos and initiated the legal process for her extradition to Italy, Tchacos is quoted as having said:

Becchina Archive Photo.
“a precise triangle” referring to Bob Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina, and Raffaele Monticelli.  She further stated that Monticelli supplied “everything that could be found in the south of Italy; I think Apulian [vases], I think terracottas, I think bronzes. . . .” all of which turned out to be factually true.  Becchina's wife Ursula also affirmed that her husband obtained material from Monticelli.

Monticelli's relationship with Gianfranco Becchina was a lengthy and profitable one.   

Among the 140 folders seized in 2001 from Gianfranco Becchina, there were many suppliers, some of whom were middleman and traffickers in direct contact with those who excavated clandestinely, as well as some tombaroli who communicated directly with the Sicilian dealer.  Becchina's confiscated records contain four folders cataloging his transactions with Monticelli, many of which contain long lists of objects as well as some Polaroids such as the one depicted to the right, from which Tsirogiannis made his matching identification.

This photo depicts the kantharos unrestored, with a large chip in the rim and still covered with incrustations.  It appears to be standing on a wooden shelf in front of a barren concrete wall, possibly at Becchina's warehouse in Basel, or perhaps in a restorer's laboratory and in its entirety also depicts additional objects which have yet to be identified and may be in circulation on the market.

At some period after the object's restoration two photos of the kantharos are taken.  These are found in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The photos showing the front and back of the object post restoration, and in keeping with the state of conservation found in the Bonhams auction photos as illustrated below.

Top Left & Bottom Left: Bonhams Photos
Top Right & Bottom Right: Symes-Michaelides archive Photos 
As is often the case with objects originating from these known dealers and middlemen one is curious as to the extent of the documentation, if any, was used by Bonhams to evaluate whether or not this particular ancient object had legitimacy on the ancient art market.

During past criminal proceedings then prosecutor Ferri spoke of the Becchina-Merrin relationship believing their involvement could possibly be part of a broader conspiracy to traffic in artifacts that involved the Americans then on trial.  As evidence lending credibility to his statement, a 1993 fax within the Becchina dossier from the Merrin Gallery to Becchina requests that photos of artifacts sent by the disgraced dealer to the Manhattan firm, used to show to potential customers, not be marked with "BEC."  In addition to that other artifacts which have been repatriated to Italy after being tied to Becchina also on occasion passed through the hands via this Manhattan gallery.  Some, later deemed illicit, were sold to various U.S. museums, including the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles.

Shouldn't the lack of any known provenance before 1991, coupled with the name Merrin Galleries drawn some amount of cautious attention?  Curiosity?  Additional due diligence?

In my own curious searches in completion of this blog post, I asked Tsirogiannis at 07:52 this morning to look for the following object sold by Christie's auction house on June 4, 2008 in the confiscated archives.



This Apulian red-figure Lekanis, drew my attention for its equally spartan collection history but more importantly for the fact that it appears to be by the same workshop, that of the Iliupersis Painter and was aparently sold during a very active period with this particular trafficking band.

By 11:37 Tsirogiannis had found and I have confirmed, what appears to be a second matching object within the Becchina dossier, albeit the Christie's photo shows some overpainting. My impression that the red-figure Lekanis didn't pass the sniff test proved accurate.  According to Tsirogiannis' review, this antiquity comes from the same group of objects that Becchina bought from Monticelli on, you guessed it March 5, 1988!

Could this come from the same find spot?  Could Merrin have bought more of these objects from Becchina?


Let's hope that both auction houses will look into the records of the dealers consignors and purchasers affiliated with these objects.  While the Lekanis has long since been sold, it should be traceable to the current purchaser.  The second should be withdrawn from the London auction to allow the Italian and British authorities sufficient time to conduct a thorough investigation.

NB:  All Identifications have been submitted to the appropriate legal authorities.

By:  Lynda Albertson


October 13, 2016

Lecture: ‘The International Illicit Antiquities Network: Dealers, Auction Houses, Private Collectors and Museums’ by Christos Tsirogiannis


Fen Edge Archaeology Group (FEAG) will host a lecture given by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis on the ‘The International Illicit Antiquities Network: Dealers, Auction Houses, Private Collectors and Museums

Date: Wednesday, 19 October 2016 

Time: 7.30 pm 


Admission Fee: Members £2; Non-members pay £3.’

The talk will present the main members of a trafficking network dealing in looted and smuggled antiquities, contra the 1970 UNESCO convention and will highlight connections between dealers, auction houses, private collectors and museums. Dr. Tsirogiannis will also make use of photographic evidence from confiscated archives of illicit antiquities dealers why antiquities should be repatriated and dealers and museum curators be prosecuted.

Christos Tsirogiannis is a forensic archaeologist researching smuggled antiquities and the market for looted cultural objects. He is a Senior Archaeologist at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and a lecturer at ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.  He studied archaeology and history of art in Greece and worked for the Greek Ministries of Culture and Justice from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. 

Since 2007, Christos has been identifying illicit antiquities, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, in museums, galleries, auction houses and private collections, notifying the relevant government authorities as toxic antiquities are suspected in the licit art market. 

August 4, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Greek (Late Hellenistic Period)
(2nd century BC - 1st century AD)
Statue of a Young Boy
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis writes on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Since 2006, about 200 antiquities of exceptional quality, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives, have been identified by the Italian authorities as looted, and have been repatriated from North American museums, private collectors, antiquities dealers, galleries and auction houses (for the latest update of the list see Tsirogiannis 2013). Most of these antiquities have been already published and exhibited, with an acknowledgement of their looted past (e.g. Godart & De Caro 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2007: Godart, De Caro & Gavili 2008; ICE 2012; ICE 2013). While details of the acquisitions regarding these looted antiquities were first being published (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2006 and 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2006, Isman 2009), demonstrating that many of these objects had been sold with fabricated collecting histories (e.g. the famous Euphronios krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, now in Rome), new cases started to emerge. This article attempts to trace the true journey of another antiquity, reveals new evidence regarding its collecting history, researches the implications arising and exposes, once again, the way the international illicit antiquities network has been operating in recent years.
Christos Tsirogiannis
Christos Tsirogiannis studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He will shortly receive his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Mr. Tsirogiannis introduces his article with 'Facts and Evidence':
According to the Becchina archive (CD 1, pagina 5, foto 1375), Mario Bruno -- who was known as a "receiver of stolen goods" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:86) and "a major grave-robber" (Isman 2008:30) sold 12 antiquities to Gianfranco Becchina, on 22 August 1987. Among these antiquities was a marble statue of a boy. This is depicted in a cut-in-half Polaroid image, covered with soil, with its head cut and lying on (what appears to be) a white cloth. A bunch of keys and a corkscrew are depicted beside the statue, at the lower left corner of the image, to provide an idea of the statue's scale. A large "X," added later with a blue marker to the image, indicates that the statue was sold by Becchina at some point after 22 August 1987. the image is struck on a notebook page prominently entitled "da Mario 22/8/1987" (from Mario 22/8/1987"). A handwritten entry, referring to this statue, notes:
Statua marmo con testa forse ritratto di figlio di imperatore. pag. cash 45' CH
"Marble statue with head, perhaps portrait of the son of an Emperor. Paid cash 45 [000?] CH [Swiss Francs]." 
At the right side of the image there is a note, in the same blue marker with which the "X" was made: "=V Fried" (but the "V" was written with a thin black pen). The use of the blue marker by Becchina to write "=[V] Fried" suggests that the statue was sold by Becchina a substantial amount of time after it was bought from Bruno (see below). Indeed, all the entries for all 12 antiquities were written with the thin black pen at the time of their acquisition from Bruno; the same blue marker annotates 5 of these objects, indicating that they were sold by Becchina in a later period (there are no further notes on the page regarding a later sale of the remaining 7 antiquities). In the abbreviated code, used by Italian members of the international illicit antiquities network, "V" stands for venduto, "sold" (the same code was used by Medici, see Felch & Frammolino 2011:174). Thus, Becchina's handwritten note means "sold to Frieda."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger was the owner of the antiquities gallery Nefer in Zurich, and maintained strong bonds with Becchina and Symes-Michaelides. Indeed, the same statue of a boy that passed from Bruno to Becchina in August 1987 appeared in the Nefer gallery antiquities catalogue in 1989 (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1989:26, no. 28). As the statue was not included even in the 1988 Nefer antiquities catalogue (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1988), it was probably sold to Becchina to Tchacos about a year later, a gap also suggested by the change of pen to mark the image now in the Becchina archive. In the 1989 Nefer catalogue, the statue is presented clean of soil and with its head attached to its neck. The statue's price (in Swiss Francs) was higher than the highest price mentioned for any other antiquity in the catalogue (no. 38 for 28,000), since it was only available "on request." The entry notes:
"Portrait statue of a young boy. The boy has short hair except for a braid fasted at the back of his head. This hairstyle was considered a good-luck charm for Egyptian youngsters. The boy's youthful features are well-rendered in a round, full face. His head is turned to the right. His childish body is rendered with great skill under the thick himation. The head was broken off in antiquity and reassembled. Marble with yellow brown encrustation on the right side. Flavian, 2nd quarter of the 1st century B.C. [sic]. 86 cm (34 in.)."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger, an Egyptian-born Greek dealer, was involved in several cases of looted antiquities (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195, 227) that have been repatriated to Italy (Gill & Chippindale 2006:312). As part of a deal between Tchacos and the Italian authorities, Frieda Tchacos was given a light sentence: "[...] on September 17, 2002, she was convicted of handling stolen and smuggled goods, and of failing to notify the authorities of the antiquities that came her way. She was given one year and six months' imprisonment, suspended, and fined 1,000 euros" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195). This led to Tchacos' full cooperation. 
The absence of collection history and find-spot, regarding the statue from the Nefer gallery catalogue, combined with the hairstyle and date information, leave unclear whether the statue arrived in Zurich from Egypt, Greece, Italy or anywhere else within the borders of the Roman Empire. However, it is known that Mario Bruno was "a dealer who operated in Etruria and Puglia, where everybody worked, and he would sell the archaeological material abroad" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:154). Moreover, given the condition of the statue as depicted in the Becchina Polaroid image, it seems more likely that the statue was found in Italy, even if it had been transported there in antiquity. 
The same statue of a boy was acquired in 1989 by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, USA and was assigned the accession number 89.24.
This article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA -- available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.