Showing posts with label TEFAF. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TEFAF. Show all posts

November 19, 2020

Unpacking what has been made public in the investigation into the recently restituted Egyptian stela in the name of the Head of the Elders of the Portal of Hathor-Lady-of-Mefket, Pa-di-séna

Image Credit:  Facebook user "Art of Ancient"

This week a 2600-year-old looted stela in the name of the Head of the Elders of the Portal of Hathor-Lady-of-Mefket, Pa-di-Séna (French spelling) was formally restituted to the Arab Republic of Egypt.  The plundered Late Period antiquity had been seized in New York in route to the December 5 – 8, 2019 TEFAF art fair, which proudly holds up its vetting process as one of the main pillars of its success. Their process allows its buyers to acquire art with confidence, though this apparently wasn't the case in this instance, as this $180,000 dodgy Egyptian limestone carving somehow slipped through the nuanced hands of the vetting experts, not just in the United States but also in Europe in Maastricht.  

But let's start at the beginning. 

Somewhere around 600 BCE the Stela of Pa-di-Séna was crafted in Egypt during the Late Period, which began with the rule of Psamtek I of the 26th Dynasty. Psamtek I is credited with shaking off foreign control by the Assyrians in the north and the Kushites in the south, reuniting Upper and Lower Egypt following a long period of political fragmentation.


The artisan who carefully sculpted the 110 cm honorary stela so many centuries ago did so in painstaking sunk relief.  With careful strokes his design depicts the owner, Pa-Di-Séna, wearing only a kilt and standing expectantly on one side of a full table he has filled with offerings to three deities  On the opposite side, the most prominent god is Osiris, accompanied by the falcon-headed Horus, and the goddess Hathor, who wears her traditional headdress of cow horns and a sun disk. 

The Stela of Pa-di-Sena would remain where it belonged, at Padisena’s tomb, back in Egypt, as a monument to the tomb's deceased, until after Egypt's Arab Spring, when a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions spread across the country, and later to other parts of the Arab world.  During this period Egyptian authorities reported a significant uptick in heritage looting.

In 2012, the Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit first got a whiff that the illicitly excavated Stela of Pa-di-Séna was being shopped by the same international smuggling network that had also trafficked the ancient gold mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.  That spectacular trafficked antiquity was sold with fraudulent provenance documentation and export licenses to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was restituted to Egypt thanks to the work at the DA's office in October 2019.   

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad - Head of the Egyptian Department of Repatriation
Image Credit: Egyptian Department of Repatriation,
Ministry of Antiquities-Arab Republic of Egypt

Conversations between the smugglers involved in the trafficking network discussed the potential sale of a stela, but it was not until 2015 that the traffickers began exchanging photos.  In these, the artefact appears freshly looted, cracked and unrestored, with chip marks along the edge of the break, which strongly suggest that the looting was not only AFTER Egypt's antiquities laws, but that the break was intentional, perhaps to ease the transport from the looting site or when smuggling the piece abroad, dividing it into smaller sections that might be harder to detect. 

But in 2015, the Stela of Pa-di-Séna's location was outside the Manhattan office's jurisdiction. 

By 2016, far from its Egyptian tomb, the Stela of Pa-di-Séna surfaced on the antiquities market for the first time in the hands of Christophe Kunicki who published the stela on his website.  The stela then made its first appearance on the public stage in Paris, with La Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot announcing the offering on May 25th with Pierre Bergé & Associés and Christophe Kunicki listing the estimated sale price at €50,000-60,000.  

Along with this relatively low figure for an ancient and rare Egyptian object, the provenance presented by the sellers was the same as that used for the looted Golden Coffin in the name of Nedjemankh:

"Old Habib Tawadros collection. German collection, acquired in 1970."  

Not to worry, despite the vague provenance, the Stela of Pa-di-Séna was snapped up anyway.  More importantly, it brought its middlemen almost three times the auctioneer's presale estimate.  This despite the fact that the object came with fabricated ownership records and falsified export documents attributed to the Egyptian authorities dating back to the 1970s.  Documents, it should be said, the seasoned purchaser who purchased the stela also readily accepted, despite marked incongruencies and factual errors which, as a purported expert, he should have easily recognized.

Screetshot: Sales results 25 May 2016
Pierre Bergé & Associés 

The 1970 provenance date on the falsified records is important as Egypt only enacted Law No. 117 "on the Protection of Antiquities" on 06 August 1983.  Article 1 defines an antiquity as "any movable or immovable property that is a product of any of the various civilizations...to a point one hundred years before the present and that has archaeological or historical value or significance as a relic of one of the various civilizations that have been established in the land of Egypt." Article 6 vests ownership of such property in the Egyptian state: "All antiquities...shall be deemed public property, and the ownership, possession and disposition of them shall be subject to the terms and conditions set forth in this law and regulations made thereunder." Article 7 states that "[a]ll trade in antiquities shall be prohibited as from the date of coming into force of this law." Finally, Article 9 prohibits the export of any antiquities: "no antiquity is to be taken outside the country."

So by 1970, had the paperwork been authentic, the new owner would have been in the clear.  

After its first purchase and by 2017, the Stela of Pa-di-Sena was being offered by C.E.C.O.A., I.A.D.A.A., and S.N.A member Galerie Cybèle in Paris, who apparently took the antiquity's made-up provenance, as supplied to Pierre Bergé by Christophe Kunicki, as the gospel truth.  All it would have taken for this gallery owner to have himself unmasked the deception, is to have done his due diligence. Had he inspected the export documents provided with any reasonable level of inquiry, he would have immediately understood the documentation accompanying the artifact was clearly and demonstrably fraudulent.  

But buyers looking to purchase the stela at TEFAF from Galerie Cybèle could rely on the calming statement provided by the president of one of the gallery's dealer associations, who says: the members of IADAA trade in ancient objects from private collections that have been on the market for decades, or even centuries.  Mr. Geerling also reassures potential collectors, saying: 

Our organisation, established in 1993, represents the top international dealers in Classical, Egyptian and Near Eastern ancient art. Our prime function is to facilitate good relations between the trade and museums, collectors, archaeologists and government agencies. We work with law enforcement and others to prevent crime and campaign vigorously for an open, legitimate trade operating under fair regulations. We firmly believe that the preservation of the relics of man’s ancient past is the responsibility of all.

Our members adhere to the highest professional standards as set out in our stringent code of ethics. They have therefore been well placed to understand and tackle issues of provenance that have become prevalent in recent years. Our members undertake due diligence as a matter of course and are obliged to check every object with a sales value over €5,000 with INTERPOL Database of Stolen Art or the the Art Loss Register. Your dealings with any member of the association can be made with the utmost confidence.

By utmost confidence, I assume President Geerling meant plausible deniability. One really doesn't have to dig very deeply to determine the stela's documentation was fraudulent, something the Manhattan D.A.'s office, with the help of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities easily substantiated.

Despite all this, the owner of Galerie Cybèle took the stela to New York twice.  The first time in 2018 when it was highlighted by TEFAF in their "meet the expert" video complete, it seems, with small amounts of dirt incrustations left from recent excavation still visible in this close-up video of the artefact. 

It also was exhibited at TEFAF Maastricht in 2019 when forensic antiquities researchers noted again that the he suspect provenance, mentioned the same suspicious Luxor dealer, Tawadros (sometimes spelled Todrous and Tadross)associated with the Manhattan D.A.'s office's earlier seizure of the golden coffin. 

Despite this, the antiquity still didn't seem to arouse the suspicions of either its vendor or the vetters at Europe's premier art fair, both of whom are supposed to have their client's interests at heart, and both of whom appeared to be more focused on the object's authenticity, than the fact that it was ripped out of the ground at some point following the civil unrest in Egypt.  

Image Credit:
MasterArt Directory
2017

Flash forward to Autumn 2019, when the stela was scheduled to come back to Manhattan for the last time. On 19 October 2019 the Manhattan District Attorney's Office formally initiated a grand-jury investigation into this specific artefact and asked the Honorable Althea Drysdale to issue a seizure order providing her with evidence based upon their exhaustive multi-year investigation.  It was once this seizure order was signed that the process of returning the ancient object to its lawful owner, the Arab Republic of Egypt could truly begin.  

As a result of the identification of the Stela of Pa-di-Séna, as well as the identification of the ancient gold mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, two important artefacts, both handled by the same chain of coinvolved, go home to Egypt. 

But who, if anyone has been charged? 

In relation to this case, law enforcement authorities in France detained five individuals in June 2020, based on investigative evidence related to both the Stela of Pa-di-Séna and the golden coffin of Nedjemankh.  All were brought in for questioning in relation to the network law enforcement in France and New York had identified as having trafficked in antiquities from conflict, and post-conflict, countries which were then laundered through the French ancient art market.  In August, a sixth individual, Roben Dib, who is connected to both sales, was also arrested in Hamburg, Germany.

Back in France, Galerie Cybèle, who has cooperated with the Manhattan D.A.'s office, has filed a lawsuit in the Paris courts to recoup the losses incurred in the purchase of the Stela of Pa-di-Sena. In it, they name the consignor, Nassifa el-Khoury, the mother of Roben Dib.  Dib is a manager of Dyonisos Gallery in Hamburg, Germany, an ancient art gallery owned by Serop Simonian. Both Dib and Serop Simonian have previously been the subject of criminal investigations in multiple countries, resulting in the seizure of hundreds of pieces of stolen cultural property

In light of all that, on 18 November the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. and his team lead by Matthew Bogdanos, formally handed over Stela of Pa-di-Séna to the people of Egypt during a repatriation ceremony attended by Ambassador Dr. Hesham Al-Naqib, Egyptian Consul General in New York and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Erik Rosenblatt.  Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, Director General of the Department of Repatriated Antiquities at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said that the stela is scheduled to return to Egypt soon.

Unfortunately, we may never know where the plundered tomb of Pa-di-Séna was.  But at least the Egyptians and its Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities can take comfort that investigations into the objects moved by this trafficking ring continue, in Manhattan, in Egypt, and elsewhere.

By:  Lynda Albertson

March 5, 2020

🏺 How a 21st century art market resembles its 18th century counterpart: Lessons for collectors attending TEFAF Maastricht 2020

"La vista dell'antiquario" 1788 by Jacques Sabet
In Rome, in the late 1700s, the value of ancient art was far different from what it is today.  The city's ancient grandeur, the Mirabilia urbis Romae (The Marvels of Rome) had faded considerably.  Gone were many of the cities grand Roman temples, its proud colonnades and heat-saving porticoes, which once heralded the glory, and some thought eternity, of Rome.   

Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz writing in 1791 at the peak of the Grand Tour wrote sadly:

In spite of the great care taken not to touch the ruins of the great Coliseum, which has been done formerly, it falls by degrees under the power of time; huge masses of stone detach themselves from it and roll upon each other; as there are everywhere wide breaches between, and there is no cement to keep them together, it may naturally be supposed, that in a few centuries more [than] nothing of the upper part will be left: but the lower, with its enormous vaults, is made for eternity, and will surely outlast all the ruins of Rome. . . . Of the broken stones of this gigantic work, the palace of Farnese, St. Mark’s, and the chancery have been erected. Its amphitheatrical ruins are now held sacred, as so many Christians suffered martyrdom in them. Altars have been erected within, before which some devout souls are always praying, in order to obtain the indulgences annexed to those acts of devotion. 

People of the day roasted fish in front of the Pantheon and in the Roman Forum, where the temples of Vesta and Caster and Pollux once stood,  the grassy spaces were used as a cattle market.  Within this decay, an enormous gap developed in culture and art between what Rome was at the height of the empire and what it was to become.  

Think that with Pope Pius VI’s commitment to sanitize and remake Rome in the late 1700s, he paid important artisans like Francesco Antonio Franzoni, one of the most renowned sculptors and restorers of antique sculpture in Rome of that period, a mere 20 scudi a month.  Pontifical big wigs, by comparison would earn between 20-30 scudi per month and a captain in the Pope's army received a paltry 200 scudi a year.  All in a time when a mid-day meal in Caput Mundi would cost you half a scudi. 

The Barberini Juno
Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican Museums
By artistic comparison, in Rome during that same period, a museum-worthy sculpture, such as the colossal Roman statue of Juno, discovered in my old Rome neighborhood (Monti) in the late 17th century, sold for 2600 scudi to the Pius and Clementine’s Museum within the Vatican. Private individuals, growing their collections, bought ancient marble works in a frenzy, for anywhere from 100-300 scudi a pop. 

Like in today's market, famous contemporary artists of the late 1700s likewise received eye-popping (for their time) commissions for their creations.  Take for example the fee charged by Antonio Canova to sculpt the funeral monument of Clement XIII in St. Peter's Basilica.  His asking price? 11 thousand scudi. 

Yet, while Italy's attention was turned to reshaping their past, Anglo-Saxon nobility, who considered ancient Greek and Roman statuary as a tie to their heredity and an important status symbol, gladly profited by taking ancient Roman and Greek art off their hands.  Their buying sprees allowed the English to fill their manor houses back home without thought to the future generations of Italians who now make great efforts to preserve the past.  

Likewise, the 18th century art market also had its plundered components.  To feed the appetites of its wealthy foreign collectors, merchants bought up entire collections and resold them at staggeringly wide margins.  In doing so they carted off Italy's neglected cultural patrimony by the boatload.   

An example of this can be seen in the maritime cargo carried by the English ship Westmorland, one of a dozen armed vessels used by art merchants plying their lucrative trade in Italy, used to transport artworks back to Britain.   Records tell us that the vessel, armed with 22 carriage guns and 12-16 swivel guns, was seized by two French warships off the coast of Malaga, Spain on January 7, 1779.  

Having set sail from the Tuscan port city Livorno, the Westmorland's bounty was bound for important collectors such as the brother of George III, Prince William, 10th duke of Norfolk, and the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. The ship's cargo was known to have included some 60 paintings, including works by Pompeo Batoni, Guercino, Carlo Maratti, Anton Raphael Mengs, Guido Reni and Guercino.  Alongside these cavasses were engravings by Piranesi, forty sculptures, 23 Roman marble vases, and various gouaches, watercolors, books and musical instruments.  This artistic treasure was also topped off with a sampling of Italy's food treasure: 32 rounds of parmesan.  

With France having joined the colonists in America's War of Independence, a January 9, 1799 naval trail established that the French were the legal "owners" of all cargo seized on the Westmorland and the merchandise was declared war booty.  The King of Spain, Charles III, in turn ultimately purchased the bulk of the valuable artworks, taking his pick of the pieces, some of which are now part of the collection at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.

Flash forward to tomorrow, where the the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) opens in the Netherlands for its 33rd edition.  Like their 18th century counterparts, many collectors at the Dutch fair, give little thought to the country of origin of the ancient objects they purchase or the sourcing practices of the dealers they buy from.  Their purchases focus on authenticity, beauty, and price,  just as their counterparts focused on centuries ago.

The same group of 21st century purchasers who might adamantly demand ethical sourcing practices in the consumable products they purchase, to ensure that the smartphones and designer bags they buy are manufactured by legal workers who work in safe working environments, fail, more often than not, to pay close attention to their art dealer's supply chain. While demanding transparency, human rights, and exploitation-free production in their ethical jeans, shoes, and watches, today's art collectors give only passing thought to an object's legitimacy and often assume (wrongly) that the dealers they buy from have taken the trouble to ensure that the artwork they are considering for purchase comes with a well researched and legitimately licit pedigree. 

Few collectors ask the truly hard questions of where the art work came from, or demand proof that it was sourced legally.  Some proudly defend questionable purchases added to collections as being done for the purpose of preservation, because source countries have failed to safeguard their rare material culture from destruction, either by environmental harm or by conflict. 

"The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest" by Willem van Haecht

If you are purchasing at TEFAF in Maastricht (or any other art fair) ARCA recommends the following:

Do Your Research 
Make sure you research who you buy your art from…and their suppliers. With a myriad of complex export regulations from one country of origin to the market country where the object is being sold, it is important to inform yourself of the export rules in the country of origin at the time your object left its home country.  

Stay Away from the Black Hats 
Assess whether the names listed in the provenance of your artwork are already suspect actors, known to have purchased, fenced, or participated in the looting of art in the past.   For this Google is your friend. 

Ask the Dealer Tough Questions 
Make your dealer show you all the documents they have in their possession on an artwork so that you can ensure that the purchase you are considering is an ethical one.  Do this BEFORE you agree to open your wallet.  As a buyer, it is your right to ensure that the art you are purchasing has been sourced ethically.  Don't let dealers intimidate you into thinking these questions are nieve, rude or inappropriate.  They service you.  You are the buyer.  If they treat you badly, walk away.  If all customers follow this rule, art dealers will quickly learn that their livelihood depends upon their suppliers being ethical actors.  This will in turn help hold the market to a higher standard with the knowledge that they are being monitored by their clients, and not just research groups like ARCA.

Spread the Love 
Encourage fellow collectors to also keep a close eye on their own art dealers and purchases. Work with them to create an aligned ethical collecting base.  

Practice What You Preach 
Ensure that you as well as your dealers uphold ethical sales practices.  Take a microscope to your own collection and if object's/artwork's purchased in the past  does not pass a critical ethical eye, consider voluntarily restituting the piece back to the heir or country of origin rather than turning a blind eye and selling an tainted object onward to another unsuspecting individual who hasn't done their homework. 

Take Advantage of ARCA 
In this world that we live in, ARCA publishes frequently on problems of bad actors plying their trade within the art market. Follow this blog or even write to us if you have questions about a problematic artwork in your collection.  We will try to help. 

Create a Community 
Encourage the art buying community to think like the conscientious consumer electronics community. Create networks that share knowledge and demand an ethical supply chain. 


Making sure your collection is ethically sourced is not a simple task, but it is good for you and good for humanity.  It is also essential to ensure that your 21st century collection habits do not mirror those of your 18th century ancestors. This benefits not only you (and your conscience), but also the citizen's of the source country where objects are stolen from. 

By:  Lynda Albertson