Showing posts with label illicit excavation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illicit excavation. Show all posts

December 11, 2020

Restitution: Cybele, the Anatolia goddess of Phrygia, finally goes home

Image Credit: Turkish Consulate General in New York

After a four and a half year stalemate in an international custody battle between a collector and the Turkish government, a marble statue representing the Anatolian goddess Cybele is finally flying home. 

Just before the start of the first intifada collector Eliezer Levin purchased the Cybele sculpture on 3 November 1987 during a public auction held by Matsa Co. Ltd (“Matsa”), run by the Archeological Center in Old Jaffa and its head, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch.  Founded in 1979, the center on Mazal Dagim street was established by Deutsch to conduct auctions of archaeological material and other activities.

The provenance listed in the Matsa/Deutsch auction catalogue for the Cybele states that the artefact is: 

“From the collection of the late general Moshe Dayan, sold to a private collector.”
 
Moshe Dayan was an influential and controversial military leader and politician, whose influence over Israel was considerable.  Between 1951-1981, Dayan bought, exchanged, and sold antiquities, establishing a vast private collection, many of which were acquired through illicit excavations.  Known for his insatiable thirst for material, Dayan was hospitalised for three weeks in 1968 after being badly injured in a landslide while robbing a burial cave at Azur near Tel Aviv. 

Image Credit: The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures,
Volume 4: Article 5, 2003

Disbursed for the most part after the deceased general's death, suspect antiquities acquired by and through Dayan have found their way problematically into both private and public collections, most with little in the way of substantiated legal and ethical provenance. 

By 2016, Eliezer Levin had decided to sell the Cybele, and consigned her indirectly to Christie's.  In relation to its sale and eventual transport for auction in New York, the collector filed for the issuance of an export license which he received on 23 February 2016 from the Israel Antiquities Authority, the governmental authority responsible for enforcing the 1978 Law of Antiquities.  One day later, his designate shipped the sculpture to the auction house in Rockefeller Center. 

By the first of March, the IAA was notified by Interpol that Turkey suspected that the Cybele sculpture had likely been taken out of Turkey illegally.  Once it was determined that the statue had left Israel,  the IAA contacted the United States Department of Homeland Security - HSI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and advised them that the artefact was en route to the United States and that Turkey might be moving forward with a claim.

On April 18, 2016, the Turkish Consulate General in New York sent a letter to the auction house informing them that the Turkish authorities had reason to believe that  Cybele was “of Turkish [Anatolian] origin” and had been “taken out of the country illegally.”   In their request, Turkey rightfully claimed that Cybele is the only known goddess of Phrygia, the first kingdom in the west-central part of Anatolia, the territory at the heart of modern Turkey.  Pending a thorough investigation, the auction firm pulled the Cybele from its upcoming auction.

Eliezer Levin, through is attorney, filed a lawsuit on 21 February 2018 for declaratory judgment on the basis that the collector had acquired the sculpture and had maintained good title to the Cybele under Section 34 of Israeli Sale Law 1968.  His attorney at that time, Sharon Cohen Levin, with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP argued that there was no basis for the forfeiture of the antiquity under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, the United States Act of Congress that became federal law in 1983 which implemented the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  

This in turn lead to the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Turkish Consulate General in New York to file counterclaims that the statue should be returned to Turkey.  Christie's in turn agreed to serve as, and is appointed by the court as, substitute custodian for the antiquity, holding it in their custody and control pending resolution of any outstanding legal claim of ownership.

While the story drug on, and legal claims worked their way through the court system, the Turkish authorities gathered expert and witness testimony building their case that the sculpture had similarities to other antiquities discovered during roadwork in the western Afyonkarahisar province in 1964.  This lead the Afyonkarahisar Museum Directorate to consult with residents of the area in which these similar objects were thought to be found who reported illicit digging at around the same time period.  

Turkish law enforcement, in turn, identified an individual with a criminal record for antiquities smuggling who had lived in the area of the illicit digging in the 1960s while one of the villagers questioned gave a sworn statement describing an artefact he/she had seen that matched the description of the Cybele statue.  Later, when shown a series of similar artefact images, this same individual was able to correctly pick the exported statue of Cybele from series of similar photographs. 

Image Credits: Turkish Consulate General in New York

Predicated on the preponderance of the evidence gathered by the Turkish authorities, Eliezer Levin stipulated to voluntary dismissal on 11 December 2020, withdrawing his claim for the Cybele concluding all cases in the US District Court in the Southern District of New York.  Packed up and placed in cargo for her return flight to Turkey,  once she is home, the Cybele is scheduled to be returned to Afyonkarahisar once the new museum in the area has been completed. 

July 30, 2020

Restitution: Lot 448, Christie's


Early last November we wrote a blog post asking Christie's about an interesting polychrome painted 5th century BCE antefix in the form of a dancing maenad.  It had been scheduled to come up for sale in their December 4, 2019 auction and I felt the artefact deserved a closer examination regarding its legitimacy on the ancient art market.  For those who do not know, an anteflix is a decorative upright ornament, used by ancient builders along the eaves of a roof to conceal tile joints.




The provenance of the antefex was listed by Christie's as follows:

Provenance:

While nothing before 1994 was specified in Christie's single-line collection history, we know that before she died Ingrid McAlpine was once the wife of Bruce McAlpine, and for a time, before their divorce, both were proprietors of McAlpine Ancient Art Limited in the UK. 

While not completely identical, the Christie's antefix closely resembles another ancient Etruscan antefix in the form of a maenad and Silenus.  This one once graced the cover of the exhibition catalog "A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman" depicted to the left.  

That South Etruscan, 500-475 BCE, polychrome anteflix was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection via Robin Symes for a tidy sum of $396,000 and displayed in an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art back in 1995.  In 2007, that antefix was restituted back to Italy by the J. Paul Getty Museum after a Polaroid photo, recovered during a 1995 police raid on warehouse space rented by Giacomo Medici at Ports Francs & Entrepôts in Geneva, was matched to the artefact in the California museum's collection.

The Christie's auction dancing maenad also closely resembled another pair of suspect polychrome antefixes depicting a maenad and Silenus.  This grouping was once part of the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum.  Like with the J. Paul Getty purchase, an image of one of the Copenhagen antefix and a foot were matched with photos law enforcement seized in the dealer Giacomo Medici's business dossier.  Eventually, as with the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Danes relinquished the pair of objects back to Italy.

Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine's names also comes up with other plundered antiquities later identified as having been laundered through the licit art market and accessioned into the prestigious Museum of Fine Arts in Boston collection.   An Attic black-figured hydria, (no.3) came through McAlpine via Palladion Antike Kunst, a gallery operated by Ursula Becchina, the wife of disgraced dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  The couple's names also appear alongside Robin Symes AND (again) Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman for the donation of an Apulian bell-krater. Both of which were restituted to Italy.

In addition, former Judge Paolo Giorgio Ferri, the Italian judge who worked heavily on these looting cases, showed me a letter, seized by the Italian authorities during their investigations which was written by the staff of Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine Ancient Art Gallery.   This letter, dated 8 July 1986, tied them once again to at least one transaction with Giacomo Medici and Christian Boursaud and referred obliquely to companies the convicted dealer operated through third parties, fronts or pseudonyms. 

All of which lead me to several (more) questions.

Why was Bruce Alpine's name, and the name of his ancient art firm conveniently omitted from the provenance record published by Christie's ahead of the December 4th auction?  
Was this omission an accidental oversight on Christie's part or an elective decision, perhaps as a way to reduce the possibility of the object's previous owners connections to the above mentioned dealers drawing unnecessary attention?    
What collection history did the auction house have, if any, that shows where or with whom this artefact belonged prior to the 1994 McAlpine acquisition date to demonstrate its legitimacy in the ancient art market?

Given that three antefixes depicting satyrs and maenads had already been returned to Italy as coming from clandestine excavations I brought my concerns to other Italian experts collaborating with ARCA, and to experts from the Villa Giulia, the Louvre,  and to the Carabinieri TPC.  Each acknowledged I had a right to be suspicious.

ARCA forensic researchers and a forensic archaeologist affiliated with the Louvre Museum pointed me to examples of molds that have been discovered at Etruscan excavations which also depict maenads and helped with comparison imaging.  Researchers in Rome who worked on the Becchina and Medici case identifications with the Rome courts pointed out similar antefixes from the ancient Etruscan cities of Veii and Falerii Veteres, which are part of Rome's Villa Giulia collection.  Both zones, situated on the southern limits of Etruria, were looted extensively.

But I was running out of time and without a smoking gun photo of the object in a looted state, I was also running out of evidence and leads.

I watched the days tick down until the item went up for auction and then sold, in just under two minutes of bidding.  Frustrated, and thinking this little lady was lost for the present, I filed my research away, hoping that down the road she might reappear and that by that point the Carabinieri, MiBACT or I might have more evidence, enough to build upon to make a case for restitution.

Surprisingly, BVLGARI, the Italian luxury brand came to the aid of its country and one frustrated antiquities researcher.  They too had been watching the auction and knew of our efforts to try and bring our girl home. Unbeknownst to me the jewelry firm had purchased the antefix, and then working through cultural diplomacy channels, donated it, through the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, to the Italian State and to the Villa Giulia specifically.

Looking back, with a view from the client's side of the equation:

When one wants to bid at an auction at Christie's, over the telephone, or online, a buyer has to prove that he or she is legitimate. To do so they must email the auction house a digital photo or PDF scan of a valid photo ID (eg. Driver’s Licence, Passport), and a proof of address.  For this proof, they will accept a recent utility bill or bank statement or corporate documents.  With these verifiable and valid documents, the auction house then trusts the potential buyer enough to open up an account in his or her name.

But Christie's seemed to need much less convincing paperwork before accepting the antefix of the dancing maenad for consignment.  Having reviewed the provenance paperwork for this antiquity, this antiquity came with only two, not very convincing documents, one of which had no dates whatsoever.

Those were:

1.) An undated document, which Christie's referred to as a "McAlpine stock card" for stock No. 2/114 noting a vendor in the name of ‘Kuhn’ of a "Terracotta antefix in the form of an akrotère."  

As mentioned above, an antefix, which comes from the Latin word antefigere, (to fasten before), is an architectural fixture which caps then end tiles of a tiled roof.

An akarotère is an architectural ornament placed on a flat pedestal called a plinth and is an ornamental sculpture or pedestal such as the one to the right. These sit above the pediment of a Classical temple and do not extend from the ends of roof tiles.  I also failed to find any Akarotères that picture a dancing maenad.

2.) An 8 February 1994 pricing document with no company names listed anywhere, which listed 15 carefully redacted artworks and one final artefact at the very bottom which listing item  2/156 as "an Antefix with musician, height 40 cm" with a list price of $35,000.

As with the first document, this second is puzzling.  The height of the listed object is slightly off, the stock number doesn't match, and the price indicated is three times higher than the antefix at Christie's sold for. And while the paper is dated 1994 in keeping with Christie's stated provenance, this document by no means shows that the document references the McAlpine's acquisition as it lists no company the purchase was made through and seems merely to be an price listing from some unidentified entity.  The visible item's description is also a bit puzzling.  While the Christie's maenad does depict her carrying a crotalum (a kind of clapper) in her right hand, it would be a stretch to call her a musician. Even if she could be described as a musician, generally speaking if you know the word antefix, its reasonable to assume you would be familiar with their depictions in history.  Why use the word pairing "with musician" instead of using "of a musician" or "of a maenad"?

This was all the documentation Christie's needed to consider an object valid for sale to a willing buyer?

They should be ashamed of themselves. 

Yet, at least we have a somewhat happy ending BVLGARI's donation.  Despite being auctioned and despite a long delay due to the COVID pandemic,she's finally home, and today, at 4pm, at a formal restitution ceremony, this lovely dancing lady took her place with her companions, in the Etruscan exhibition Colors of the Etruscans** at Rome's Centrale Montemartini.  



On the left the antefix as offered for sale by Christies. On the right the antefix at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. This antefix was found in 1937 in Veii, in the course of regular excavations of the Soprintendenza at the Etruscan sanctuary of Campetti North: a site previously looted by tombaroli. It seems evident that both antefixes were cast from the same mould and decorated in the same workshop. Therefore, most probably were originally part of the decoration of a single building.


On hand for the restitution celebration were:

Claudio Parisi Presicce, Capitoline Superintendency for Cultural Heritage -Director of Archaeological and Historical - Artistic Museums

Valentino Nizzo, Director of the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia

Margherita Eichberg, ABAP Superintendent for the Metropolitan area of Rome, the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria

Sara Neri, Direzione Generale Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio (Service IV, Circulation)

Lt. Col.. Nicola Candido, Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

Leonardo Bochicchio, Daniele F. Maras, curators of the exhibition


I for one am glad she's home, and to also have been a part of her journey.  She's travelled a long way, from the Etruscan city of Veii, to London, and back home again.  May her bare feet forever dance on Italian soil.

By:  Lynda Albertson

** This exhibition will be open at the Centrale Montemartini museum through 01 November 2020.

March 3, 2020

Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and now TikTok being used to memorialize cultural heritage crimes

Screenshot of TikTok Video showing unauthorized excavation
In the past few years, and for better or worse, social media has completely rewritten the way the world communicates. As more and more humans, from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds, stare mesmerised by the glowing screen of smartphones, the intersection between social media and art crimes grows unabated, and seemingly unstoppable by traditional law enforcement methods.   The monitoring of social media documented crimes, is most often focused on detecting drug crimes or human trafficking. Taking a bite out of heritage crime seems like a luxury.  Especially in police departments with few, if any, trained resources with experience in this new frontier. 

While mainstream social media networks have explicit rules on the kind of content they permit, criminal actors change profiles like most of us change our underwear.  Today's Igor becomes tomorrow's Ahmed, or better still, a sexy brunette named Elisabetta. This ability to morph into another avatar allows criminals to reach would-be "consumers" continents away simply with the tap of a finger and an endless supply of well-curated, high-definition pictures or tantalizing videos.

Facebook groups can and are being created where the privacy settings are such that only the group’s members are aware of the group's existence, and joining is monitored by gatekeeper administrators.  Entrances are granted by invitation or by screening, which sometimes makes monitoring them a game of whack-a-mole.

Open for business, those breaking the law are able to hide in plain sight, advertising their illegal wares directly via an ever-changing parade of profiles which post videos, photos and statuses onto social media feeds or via ‘stories’ , documenting the illicit objects they have available, sometimes with proof of life details.  Once a potential buyer is identified, the conversations quickly switch to DM, (direct messaging), or move off site altogether to encrypted chat applications.

Take a look at this February video downloaded from the app TikTok. 


To highlight the growing problem, and how these images can incentivise copycat crimes, the Turkish archaeology magazine Aktüel Arkeoloji Dergisi published this video, sent to them by one of their readers.  In the live broadcast, uploaded to the social media platform TikTok, a team of unauthorized scavengers can be seen excavating an entire sarcophagus with the help of heavy machinery.

What can social media sites do as a deterrence? 

In an effort to combat drug crimes and make sales videos harder to find, TikTok bans popular drug hashtags like #cocaine, #methamphetamine #heroin, but often misses the ever changing street slang terms associated with their use.   A quick search of more subtle hashtags like, #blues, #kickers, #40, #80, when strung together with other key words, lead you to posts advertising OxyContin and not blues musicians or football players.  Hashtags for treasure hunting, using words like lahit mezar which are language or dialect specific are even harder for sites to screen for.

TikTok is said to now be used in 150 countries and is labelled in the app store as being for those aged 12 and over.  The 16 second video above already had more than one million views before anyone could raise a red flag.

By:  Lynda Albertson