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September 12, 2022

Orpheus, the poet, and his two sirens are going home

Back in August, ARCA wrote about a 11 August 2022 announcement made by the J. Paul Getty Museum where the museum publically stated its intention to relinquish its nearly-lifesize Apulian sculptural group "Seated Musician and Sirens" to the Italian authorities "after evidence persuaded the museum that the statues had been illegally excavated."  

In elaborating on the three sculptures' return, directors Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle of the J. Paul Getty stated "Thanks to information provided by Matthew Bogdanos and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicating the illegal excavation of Orpheus and the Sirens, we determined that these objects should be returned." 

Their announcement strategically omitted that the New York Attorney's office had already seized the terracotta sculptures back in the Spring, in April 2022, as part of the Manhattan office's investigation into an accused Italian antiquities smuggler, Gianfranco Becchina. 

Friday, September 9, 2022, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr.,  announced the return of these three artworks formal handover to the people of Italy. They were given over in a formal ceremony held at the J. Paul Getty Museum lead by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos and Special Agent Robert Mancene from Homeland Security Investigations and attended on the Italian side by General Roberto Riccardi, Commander of the Carabinieri’s Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (TPC), Warrant Officer Angelo Ragusa, and Silvia Chiave, Los Angeles-based Consul General for the Republic of Italy.

Originally brightly painted, this large-scale sculptural ensemble was purchased by John Paul Getty Sr.,  the founder of Getty Oil Company, in the spring of 1976 days after they were stolen from a plundered chamber tomb near Taranto, Italy.  Broken into hundreds of dirt-encrusted clay fragments and ultimately reconsolidated, American-born, British petroleum industrialist purchased the 3-statue group, sculpted in Tarentum at the end of the 4th century BCE for $550,000 from Bank Leu, A.G with no known provenance aside from the Swiss bank seller.

The investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, working in collaboration with the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, confirmed that the three terracotta artworks at the  Pacific Palisades' museum were sourced by local grave robbers working for Raffaele Monticelli, an intermediary trafficker who today is believed to be one of the biggest fences of archaeological finds coming from Italy, and perhaps one of the top three in Europe.

Raffaele Monticelli, sometimes referred to as the “professor from Taranto” is a former elementary school teacher now in his eighties.  He once controlled and financed clandestine excavations which systematically looted large swaths of southern Italy, particularly in Puglia, Calabria and Campania.  Listed on the now famous trafficking organigram, in which two cordata lead to Robert Hecht but by different routes, Monticelli was an active member of Gianfranco Becchina’s cordata.  Numerous transactions between the pair have been well-documented in the Becchina archive.

According to the findings of the DANY investigation and its international law enforcement partner, the broken sculptures were illegally exported out of the Italian territory in contravention of Italian laws and into Switzerland.  Once there, Becchina and Monticelli paid for the nearly-lifesize terracotta sculptural group of a Poet and Sirens to be restored.  Afterward, the sale of the sculptures was arranged through Leo Mildenberg, a Swiss numismatist, antiquities collector, and identified handler of illicit antiquities, via the Swiss private Bank Leu A.G. 

According to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's Michael Steinhardt statement of facts, we can concretise, on page 36, that Raffaele Monticelli had known  relationships with Leo Mildenberg as well as the Sicilian dealer Gianfranco Becchina. 

As mentioned in an earlier article, John Paul Getty Sr., wrote in his dairy that these three sculptures were purchased on the recommendation of Jiří Frel, the J. Paul Getty's first Curator of Antiquities, showing how sometimes museum insiders have skin in the game.  Frel, as most Italian trafficking experts know, was later implicated in a number of controversies that ultimately destroyed his career and tarnished the California museum's reputation.  He was ultimately placed on paid leave from the Getty in 1984, before being allowed to quietly resign two years later. 

After leaving the Getty, Frel shuttled between residences in Budapest and Italy and at one point even registered himself as being domiciled at the home of Gianfranco Becchina in Castelvetrano, underscoring the closeness of the curator's relationship with the suspect dealer.

In making his announcement of this This successful multi-jurisdictional investigation on Friday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., named those attorneys, officers and agencies who made this seizure and utimately this restitution possible. Those were, in order:  Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit; Assistant District Attorney Yuval Simchi-Levi; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer and Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini and Daniel Healey; and Special Agent Robert Mancene of Homeland Security Investigations. Investigative support was provided by TPC Warrant Officer Angelo Ragusa.

When Orpheus, the poet, and his two sirens eventually fly, they will initially go on display in the Museo dell'Arte Salvata (Museum of Rescued Art), housed in the Octagonal Hall at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. 

September 6, 2022

Museum restitutions are more than just the sum of their numbers

Image Credit - HSI - ICE

On 21 February 2006 the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Italian government signed an agreement under which the Met agreed to return 21artefacts looted from archaeological sites within Italy's borders. With that accord, the New York museum yielded its prized sixth-century BC "hot pot," a Greek vase known as the Euphronios krater.  

As part of that historic accord, the museum also relinquished a red-figured Attic amphora by the Berlin Painter; a red-figured Apulian Dinos attributed to the so-called Darius Painter; a psykter with horsemen; a Laconian kylix, and 16 rare Hellenistic silver pieces experts determined were illegally excavated from Morgantina in Sicilia.  It also included a carefully-worded clause which stated:

I) The Museum in rejecting any accusation that it had knowledge of the alleged illegal provenance in Italian territory of the assets claimed by Italy, has resolved to transfer the Requested Items in the context of this Agreement. This decision does not constitute any acknowledgement on the part of the Museum of any type of civil, administrative or criminal liability for the original acquisition or holding of the Requested Items. The Ministry and the Commission for Cultural Assets of the Region of Sicily, in consequence of this Agreement, waives any legal action on the grounds of said categories of liability in relation to the Requested Items.

Admitting no wrongdoing, where there surely was some, this unprecedented and then-considered watershed resolution, put an end to a decades-old cultural property dispute, with both sides choosing the soft power weapon of collaboration and diplomacy, complete with agreed upon press releases that enabled Italy to get its stolen property back without the need for costly and sometimes fruitless litigation.  

The signing of this 2006 agreement was thought to usher in a new spirit of cooperation between universal museums and source nations that those working in the field of cultural restitution hoped would permanently alter the balance of power in the international cultural property debate.  At the time of its signing at the Italian cultural ministry, the Met's then-director, Philippe de Montebello, said the agreement "corrects the improprieties and errors committed in the past."

Heritage advocates applauded the agreement, hopeful that museums around the globe would begin to more proactively explore their own problematic accessions and apply stricter museum acquisition policies to prevent looted material from entering into museum collections.  Coupled with collaborative loan agreements, museums and source country accords like this one, combined with strongly worded ethics advisories, like the one set forth that same year by the International Council of Museums in their ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums should have served to eliminate the bulk of problematic museum purchases and donations without the need for piece by piece requests for restitution and protracted and costly litigation. 

But has it? 

The aforementioned ICOM document clearly states: 

4.5 Display of Unprovenanced Material

Museums should avoid displaying or otherwise using material of questionable origin or lacking provenance. They should be aware that such displays or usage can be seen to condone and contribute to the illicit trade in cultural property.

8.5 The Illicit Market

Members of the museum profession should not support the illicit traffic or market in natural or cultural property, directly or indirectly.

Yet, here we are, 16 years after that signing of the Met-Italy accord, with the same universal museum [still] hanging on to and displaying material of questionable origin, long after their questionable handlers have been proven suspect. Likewise, 16 years later, and with the persistence of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit at New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan, we see another 21 objects being seized last month from the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere.   

In total, some 27 artefacts have been confiscated in the last year from the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  In 2022 alone, five search warrants have resulted in seizures of pieces from within the museum's collection,  demonstrating that the Met, and other universal museums like it, (i.e., the Musée du Louvre and the Louvre Abu Dhabi) have yet to satisfactorily master the concepts of “provenance” research and “due diligence”. 

Founded in 1870, the MMA's mission statement states that it "collects, studies, conserves, and presents significant works of art across time and cultures in order to connect all people to creativity, knowledge, ideas, and one another."  Yet, despite holding many problematic artefacts purchased, not only the distant past, but also in the recent, the Met still struggles with the practical steps it should be taking regarding object provenance and exercising due diligence, both before and after accessioning purchases and donated material into their collection.

As everyone [should] know by now, the concept of provenance refers to the history of a cultural object, from its creation to its final destination.  Due diligence, on the other hand, refers to a behavioural obligation of vigilance on the part of the purchaser, or any person involved in the transfer of ownership of a cultural object, (i.e., museum curators, directors, legal advisors etc.,).  This need for due diligence stretches beyond the search for the historical provenance of the object, but needs to also strive to establish whether or not an object has been stolen or illegally exported.  

So while we applaud the Metropolitan Museum of Art for having been fully supportive of the Manhattan district attorney’s office investigations, as has been mentioned in relation to the August 2022 seizure, we would be remiss to not  question why, in the last 16 years, and despite the fact that the “Met’s policies and procedures in this regard have been under constant review over the past 20 years,” the museum has still not addressed these problematic pieces head on.  

This museum is home to more than two million objects. Despite the responsibility and gravitas required for building and caring for such a large collection of the world's cultural and artistic heritage, the Met has yet to establish a single dedicated position, with the requisite and necessary expertise, to proactively address the problematic pieces it has acquired in the past, and to serve as a set of much needed set of breaks, when evaluating future acquisitions, so that the next generation of identified traffickers, don't also profit from the museum's coffers as they did with the $3.95 million dollar golden coffin inscribed for Nedjemankh and five other Egyptian antiques worth over $3 million confiscated from the museum under a May 19 court order.  

For the most part, provenance has been carried out haphazardly, and by only one or two people, working in specific departments, primarily in curatorial research rolls that only covering specific historical time frames or one or two material cultures. The lack of that comprehensive expertise brings us to apologetic press statements and a plethora of seizures like ones we have seen over the last year.  

But moving on to what was seized at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 13 July 2022. The $11 million worth of objects include: 

a. A bronze plate dated ca. 550 BCE ,measuring 11.25 inches tall, and valued at $300,000.  

This artefact was donated by Norbert Schimmel, a trustee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who, during his tenure, was member of the Met's acquisitions committee.  By 1982 he was known to be purchasing antiquities from Robin Symes via Xoilan Trading Inc., Geneva.  This firm shared a Geneva warehouse address (No. 7 Avenue Krieg in Geneva) with two of Giacomo Medici’s companies, Gallerie Hydra and Edition Services.

Symes is noted as being one of the leading international merchants of clandestinely excavated archeology.  His name appears in connection with four different objects in this Met seizure. 

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b. A marble head of Athena, dated ca. 200 BCE, measuring 19 inches tall and valued at $3,000,000.  

This Marble Head of Athena was with Robin Symes until 1991, then passing to Brian Aitken of Acanthus Gallery in 1992.  It was then sold to collectors Morris J. and Camila Abensur Pinto, who in turn, loaned the artefact to the Met in 1995.  It was then purchased by the Metropolitan in 1996.  

Symes's name appears in connection with four different objects in this Met seizure, while Aitken's name comes up frequently as having bought from red flag dealers.  His name appears in connection with two different objects in this Met seizure. 

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c. A fragmentary terracotta neck-amphora, dated ca. 540 BCE, measuring 14.75 inches tall and valued at $350,000. 

This fragmented neck-amphora was purchased by the Met from Robert Hecht (Atlantis Antiquities) in 1991.  Four years later, Hecht's name would appear in seized evidence outlining his key position at the top of two trafficking cordata on a pyramid org chart which spelled out seventeen individuals involved in one interconnected illicit trafficking network.  

Archaeological artefacts sold by Hecht have been traced to the collections of the Met, the British Museum, the Musee du Louvre, and numerous other U.S. and European institutions, many of which have been determined to have come from clandestine excavations.

Polaroids photographs of this artefact, shot after the advent of Polaroids in 1972, are among the seized materials found within the Giacomo Medici archive.  These photos  depict the neck-amphora balanced precariously on a rose-colored upholstered chair. 

As mentioned above, Hecht's name appears in connection with three different objects in this Met seizure. 

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d. A terracotta red-figure kylix, dated ca. 490 BCE, measuring 13 inches in diameter, and valued at $1,200,000.

This fragmented kylix was purchased from Frederique Marie Nussberger-Tchacos in 1988 and consolidated with other terracotta fragments purchased earlier from Robert Hecht in 1979. 

In 2002 Tchacos was the subject of an Italian arrest warrant in connection with antiquities laundering.  And again, as mentioned above, Hecht's name appears in connection with three different objects in this Met seizure. 

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e. A marble head of a horned youth wearing a diadem, dated 300-100 BCE measuring 14 inches tall, and valued at $1,500,000.

This marble head of a horned youth wearing a diadem passed through the ancient art collection of Nobel Prize winner Kojiro Ishiguro, another client of Robin Symes.  It was then purchased by Robert A. and Renee E. Belfer when sold by the Ishiguro family via Ariadne Galleries.  Afterwards it was gifted by the Belfers to the Met in 2012. 

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f. A gilded silver phiale, dated ca. 600-500 BCE, measuring 8 inches in diameter, and valued at $300,000. 

This long-contested gilded silver phiale was purchased via Robert E. Hecht in 1994.  As mentioned previously Hecht's name appears in connection with three different objects in this Met seizure. 

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g. A glass situla (bucket) with silver handles, dated ca. 350-300 BCE, measuring 10.5 inches tall, and valued at $400,000.

This unique glass situla was purchased by the Met through Merrin Gallery in 2000. Photos and proof of sale of this artefact are documented in the archive of suspect dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  Correspondence within in the Becchina Archive cache of business records shows communication between the Sicilian dealer and Ed Merrin and/or his gallery dating back to the 1980s.  In the book, The Medici Conspiracy, by Peter Watson and Cecelia Todeschini, the writers cite one letter written by Merrin Gallery to Becchina, where Becchina was asked not to write his name on the back of photos of antiquities he sent for consideration.

Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure. Merrin Gallery appears in connection with multiple objects within this seizure. 

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h. A terracotta lekythos, dated ca. 560-550 BCE, measuring 5.3 inches tall and valued at $20,000.

This terracotta lekythos was purchased from Galerie Antike Kunst Palladion in 1985 the same year Becchina sold a suspect krater by the Ixion painter to the Musée du Louvre. 

As mentioned above, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.

__________

i. A terracotta mastos, dated ca. 520 BCE, measuring 5.5 inches in diameter and valued at $40,000.

Before he even moved to Switzerland, Gianfranco Becchina was already selling to the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1975.  According to the Met's records, which we believe contain a date error, this terracotta nipple-shaped cup was purchased from Antike Kunst Palladion in 1975.  However, records show that Becchina emigrated from Castelvetrano in Sicily to Basel, Switzerland after having undergone a bankruptcy procedure in 1976 and formed the Swiss business that same year.

As mentioned previously, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.

__________

j. A fragment of a black-figure terracotta plate, dated ca. 550 BCE, measuring 3 by 2.5 inches and valued at $4,000.

This fragment, attributed to Lydos, was purchased by the Metropolitan from Galerie Antike Kunst Palladion in 1985. 

As mentioned above, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.

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k. A fragment of a black-figure terracotta amphora, dated ca. 530 BCE, measuring 2 by 2.6 inches and valued at $1,500.

This fragment, attributed to the Amasis Painter, was purchased from Galerie Antike Kunst Palladion in 1985.

As mentioned previously, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.

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1. A pair of Apulian gold cylinders, dated ca. 600-400 BCE, measuring 2.25 inches in diameter and valued at $10,000. 

This pair of gold Apulian cylinders was gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1981 by Mr. and Mrs. Gianfranco Becchina.

As mentioned above, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.

__________

m. A bronze helmet of Corinthian type, dated 600-550 BCE, measuring 8.5 by 7.75 and valued at $225,000.

This helmet is one of five Met-donated helmets identified as being part of the Bill Blass collection between 1992 and 2002.  It joined the Met in 2003.  Within the Gianfranco Becchina archive is a page of five Polaroid photographs,which depict multiple bronze helmets, including those from the Bill Blass collection which are part of this seizure. 

Also, among the Becchina archive documentary material are two business documents believed to be related to these transactions. 

The first is a 1989 multi-page export document for a grouping of objects being exported to Merrin Gallery indicating the sale of three helmets, one of which is described as "one South Italian Greek Bronze Helmet of the so-called Corinthian type, with bronze pins remaining for the attachment of the lining. "

The second is a fax correspondence from Becchina to Samuel Merrin discussing some sort of transfer regarding a single helmet and Acanthus Gallery.

As mentioned previously, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.  Merrin Gallery appears in connection with multiple objects within this seizure. 

__________

n. A bronze helmet of South Italian-Corinthian type, dated mid-4th-mid-3rd century BCE, measuring 7.75 inches tall and valued at $125,000.

Like the previous one, this helmet is one of five Met-donated helmets identified as being part of the Bill Blass collection between 1992 and 2002.  It joined the Met in 2003.  Within the Gianfranco Becchina archive is a page of five Polaroid photographs, which depict multiple bronze helmets, including those from the Bill Blass collection which are part of this seizure. 

Also, among the Becchina archive documentary material are two business documents believed to be related to these transactions. 

The first is a 1989 multi-page export document for a grouping of objects being exported to Merrin Gallery indicating the sale of three helmets, Two of which are described as "two South Italian Greek Bronze Helmets, both decorated with incised animals, one with restings [sic] of a plume holder on top."

The second is a fax correspondence from Becchina to Samuel Merrin discussing some sort of transfer regarding a single helmet and Acanthus Gallery.

As mentioned previously, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.  Merrin Gallery appears in connection with multiple objects within this seizure. 



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o. A bronze helmet of Apulian-Corinthian type dated 350-250 BCE, measuring 12 inches tall and valued at $175,000

Like the previous one, this is one of five Met-donated helmets identified as being part of the Bill Blass collection between 1992 and 2002.  It joined the Met in 2003.  Within the Gianfranco Becchina archive is a page of five Polaroid photographs, which depict multiple bronze helmets, including those from the Bill Blass collection which are part of this seizure. 

Also, among the Becchina archive documentary material are three paper business documents. 

The first is a 1989 multi-page export document for a grouping of objects being exported to Merrin Gallery indicating the sale of three helmets,  two of which are described as "two South Italian Greek Bronze Helmets, both decorated with incised animals, one with restings [sic] of a plume holder on top."

The second is a fax correspondence from Becchina to Samuel Merrin discussing some sort of transfer regarding a single helmet and Acanthus Gallery.

The third is a photocopy of this object with a red line through the image and v/ Me written below. While not conclusive, V/Me most likely refers to venduto (sold) Merrin.  

As mentioned previously, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.  Merrin Gallery appears in connection with multiple objects within this seizure. 

__________

p. A white-ground terracotta kylix attributed to the Villa Giulia Painter, dated ca. 470 BCE. measuring 6.5 inches in diameter and valued at $1,500,000.

This rare Terracotta kylix is the second highest value item of all 21 artefacts seized.  It joined the Met in 1979. Unfortunately it too was purchased via the Galerie Antike Kunst Palladion.

As mentioned above, Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.

__________

q. A marble head of a bearded man, dated 200-300 CE, measuring 12.2 inches tall and valued at $350,000.

This marble head of a bearded man joined the Met in 1993, purchased from Acanthus Gallery operated by Brian Tammas Aitken.  Gianfranco Becchina archive documents an October 1988 sales receipt to Aitken for "3 Roman Marble heads" for 85,000 Fr.  

As mentioned above, Aitken's name comes up frequently as having bought from red flag dealers and appears on two different objects in this Met seizure. Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.

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r. A terracotta statuette of a draped goddess, dated 450-300 BCE,  measuring 14.75 inches tall and valued at $400,000.

This terracotta statuette of a draped goddess was donated to the Met by Robin Symes in 2000, in memory of his deceased partner Christos Michaelides.  His name appears in connection with four different objects in this Met seizure. 

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s. A bronze statuette of Jupiter, dated 250-300 CE, measuring 11.5 inches tall and valued at $350,000.

This bronze statuette of Jupiter was acquired by the Met via Bruce McAlpine in 1997. Prior to his death, UK dealer McAlpin had dealings with Robin Symes, Giacomo Medici, and Gianfranco Becchina.

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t. Marble statuettes of Castor and Pollux (on loan), dated 400-500 CE, measuring 24 inches tall and valued at $800,000.

The Dioskouroi had been on anonymous loan to the Metropolitan Museum since 2008 as L.2008.18.1, .2. While the Museum's loan accession record has been removed, a Met catalogue informs us that the statues were "probably from the Mithraeum in Sidon, excavated in the 19th century". 

With a bit more digging Dr. David Gill was able to get further details from the Met itself.  They indicated the pair had come from an "ex private collection, Lebanon; Asfar & Sarkis, Lebanon, 1950s; George Ortiz Collection, Geneva, Switzerland; collection of an American private foundation, Memphis, acquired in the early 1980s".

At some point along their journey, the pair passed through the Merrin Gallery where they were published by Cornelius C. Vermeule, in Re:Collections (Merrin Gallery, 1995).

While a seemingly professional photo of these objects exists in the confiscated Robin Symes Archive, that photo depicts the object prior to restoration.  In that photo,  Castor's leg, and the leg of his horse behind him, are missing.  By the time they arrive to the Met on loan, the two limbs have been reattached. 

As mentioned above, Merrin Gallery appears in connection with multiple objects within this seizure. 

__________

and lastly,

u. A fragment of a terracotta amphora attributed to the Amasis Painter, dated ca. 550 BCE, measuring 3.25 by 4.5 inches and valued at $2,000. 

This terracotta amphora fragment is attributed to the Amasis Painter. It is one of many examples of fragments bought via Gianfranco Becchina's gallery, Galerie Antike Kunst.  It was acquired+gifted by Dietrich von Bothmer to the Met in 1985.

Gianfranco Becchina's name or company name appears in connection with twelve different objects in this Met seizure.


__________

But these seized pieces are more than the sum of these numbers.  They tell us a lot about this one museum's particular lethargy in dealing with or voluntarily relinquishing problematic pieces before being handed a court order.

One thing is certain though, museums reputations certainly do not benefit when dragged into adversarial, long-winded, and sometimes costly claims for restitution.  Nor do they benefit from having their name up in lights when objects are seized on the basis of investigations the museum would have been wise to have done themselves. 

Waiting until either of the above happens also runs counter to, and impedes, the essential purposes of museums, which should be about presenting their collections in innovative ways, and fostering understanding between communities and cultures. The Met would have been better off providing open and equitable discourse about their collection's problems before their hand was forced, as waiting until after says a lot about their true collecting values. 

When museums hedge their bets, hoping that the public's memory is short, or crossing their fingers that source countries are too disorganised, too undermanned or to poor to spend hours looking for problematic works they will pay the price later.  Far better to avoid the painfully slow, one seizure after another reality, and the negative spotlight and mistrust that comes with it, by doing what all museums should be doing, i.e., conscientiously conducting the necessary provenance research and due diligence on their past and potential acquisitions.

Image Credit - HSI - ICE

To close this article, we would like to announce that today, New York DA Bragg returned 58 stolen antiquities valued at over $18 million, to the people of Italy, including a goodly number of the 21 pieces mentioned above.

Image Credit - HSI - ICE

In closing, ARCA would like to thank DA Bragg, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit; Assistant District Attorneys Yuval Simchi-Levi, Taylor Holland, and Bradley Barbour, Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini, Alyssa Thiel, Daniel Healey, and Hilary Chassé; who alongside Special Agents John Paul Labbat and Robert Mancene of Homeland Security Investigations as well as Warrant Officer Angelo Ragusa of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, Dr. Daniella Rizzo, Dr. Stefano Alessandrini, and Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis gave crucial contributions to the knowledge we have about when, and where, and with whom, these recovered artefacts circulated. 

ARCA would also like to personally thank Assistant District Attorney Bogdanos for the trust he puts in the contribution of forensic analysts inside ARCA and working with other organisation. He and his team's approach and openness has proven time and time again, that such collaboration is worthwhile and fruitful. 

By:  Lynda Albertson


August 12, 2022

Raffaele Monticelli's connection to Bank Leu A.G. and to the Getty Villa's "Seated Musician and Sirens" AKA Orpheus and the Sirens

In a tightly worded announcement made on 11 August 2022 the J. Paul Getty Museum revealed that it will finally relinquish its nearly-lifesize terracotta sculptural group "Seated Musician and Sirens" to the Italian authorities "after evidence persuaded the museum that the statues had been illegally excavated."  In elaborating on the three sculptures' return, directors Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle of the J. Paul Getty stated "Thanks to information provided by Matthew Bogdanos and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicating the illegal excavation of Orpheus and the Sirens, we determined that these objects should be returned." 

While this announcement seemed like breaking news across the English speaking world, making several major news publications, it's not to those living and working on Italian cultural heritage losses. Many of those who have been following the tug of war between Italy and the Getty museum for more than a decade have felt that these objects, coming from the Magna Graecia colony of Taranto, should have already come home, and are curious as to what confirmatory evidence the New York authorities now have about these objects' illicit past and those who handled them which finally resulted in the museum's sudden release of their prized grouping. 

As backstory, the seated poet and his two standing sirens were confiscated in April 2022 as part of New York's investigation into an accused Italian antiquities smuggler. Originally brightly painted, this large-scale sculptural ensemble was purchased by John Paul Getty Sr.,  the founder of Getty Oil Company, in the spring of 1976 with no known provenance aside attesting to its collecting history, aside from the name of the Swiss bank seller.

Orpheus, seated on his chair, with footstool, and slab, is missing part of his musical instrument (probably a plektron) and the middle finger of the left hand.  Reassembled from a number of fragments prior to its acquisition by the Getty, his legs, head and other sections appear to have been reconsolidated, leaving him mostly intact.  Missing sections were also filled in, and smoothed over, with obscuring encrustations added on the body and the head, perhaps to conceal break lines which can sometimes be indicative of illegal excavation. 

Like with the sculpture of the poet, both of the sirens in this grouping also show signs of having been reconstructed from multiple fragments.  On the first siren, gaps can be seen in her short chiton and in her right claw.  For the second, most of the curls and the little finger of her right hand have been broken off the statue at some point in her transport out of Italy. 

But what did John Paul Getty Sr. have to say about their circulation on the art market and his collecting habits as he filled his new museum?

Prior to his death, and in ever declining health despite being deeply involved in the construction and opening of the Getty Villa,  Getty made multiple final acquisitions for his museum, with little attention towards the provenance and via several suspect brokers of ancient art who repeatedly have been accused of  trafficking in antiquities.  These purchases are outlined in his March 6, 1976 diary entry and include:  

  • a 530 BCE Archaic marble head from Heinz Herzer worth 56,000 DM (Object Number: 76.AA.6);
  • a Greek Attic Panatheniac Amphora Attributed to the Nichomachos Group from Nicolas Koutoulakis worth 70,000 USD (Object Number: 76.AE.5.a);
  • a Statue of Togatus from Bank Leu, A.G. for 61,000 SF;
  • a 180 BCE Hellenic Marble Head from Muhammed Yoganah for 50,000 USD;
  • a 100–250 CE Toman silver statuette of Venus from Mathias Komor for $7500 (Object Number:76.AM.4);
  • a 210 CE Front of a Sarcophagus with the Myth of Endymion from Robin Symes for 30,000 GBP (Object Number: 76.AA.8.b);  
and finally, 
  • the group of 3 statues made in Tarentum at the end of the 4th century BCE for $550,000 from Bank Leu, A.G. (Object Numbers: 76.AD.11.1, 76.AD.11.2 and 76.AD.11.3).
Getty wrote in his dairy that all of the artefacts above, had been purchased on the recommendation of Jiří Frel, the Getty's Czech-American archaeologist.  Frel, was the J. Paul Getty Museum's first Curator of Antiquities would later be implicated in a number of controversies that tarnished the reputation of the museum.  Based on suspicions of malpractice, he was placed on paid leave from the Getty in 1984 and was allowed to quietly resign in 1986.  

After leaving the California museum, Frel, served as a consultant for wealthy European collectors, taught classes, and shuttled between residences in Budapest and Italy. At one point he even registered himself as being domiciled in Sicily, setting his residence in the palazzo of the problematic antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina in Castelvetrano.

Speaking with Italian journalists, New York prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's Antiquities Trafficking Unit stated that the J. Paul Getty Museum had cooperated with the DANY regarding these pieces after their seizure, but underscored that their seemingly impromptu restitution is still part of an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the Manhattan office in collaboration with the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale.  Bogdanos added that the museum's repatriation statement, released by the Getty, "left half of the truth out" and by that one can surmise he is referring to their seizure the previous April. 

Speaking further, Bogdanos added that this multi-year investigation started with the exploration of suspect market actors his team has spent years investigating.  The prosecutor underscored that this sculpture group's illegal removal from Italy, and export to the United States via Switzerland, involved a well known trafficking network which is known to have operated in Italy for decades.  

One member of this network who has now been publicly identified is Raffaele Monticelli, the retired elementary teacher, who gave up teaching for the more lucrative roll of middle man broker of illicit antiquities.  Monticelli has been arrested several times, and connected to multiple trafficking networks for decades.  Most recently, in late 2021, he was arrested by the Dutch authorities after having carried a looted helmet to Delft for restoration.

If we take a look at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's Michael Steinhardt statement of facts, we can also determine, on page 36, that Raffaele Monticelli also had a relationship with Leo Mildenberg, the late Swiss numismatist for the Swiss private Bank Leu A.G., who is known to have brokered sales both for Raffaele Monticelli and for Gianfranco Becchina. 

How long has this restitution taken? 

The sculptural group first appeared as a grouping of high concern in the list of identified finds drawn up by Italy's Ministry of Culture at the beginning of 2006.  

The Taranto provenance, in addition to appearing in the digital record compiled by the J. Paul Museum, is supported by Italian scholars Pietro Giovanni Guzzo and Angelo Bottini who published the grouping purchased by the Getty in 1976. 

Furthermore, an article, published in the "Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno" dated 30 November 2006, and republished in the web magazine "patrimoniosos" stated "the comparisons with the monumental groups in terracotta found in central and southern Italy and the representations we have on the ceramic finds of Apulian production, which document the presence of decorative terracotta statues on the monumental tombs of Taranto, dispel any doubts about their origin from southern Italy "


Photographs of the pieces were also seen in 2018 in a series of black and white photos documenting portions of the restored sculptures on the 8 December 2018 RAI documentary "Petrolio - Ladri di Bellezza" produced by journalist Duilio Giammaria and Senator Margherita Corrado has repeatedly spoken in the XVIII Session of the Italian Senate about the need to bring these artefacts home.

Yet, despite all that, the 4th century BCE sculptures were (still) center stage on the ground floor of the Getty Villa in California's Pacific Palisades during the museum's  exhibition: Underworld - Imagining the Afterlife as late as October 31, 2018–March 18, 2019.   They were removed only after this investigation came to a head earlier this year.  

When Orpheus and his Sirens eventually fly home in September, they will initially go on display in the Museo dell'Arte Salvata (Museum of Rescued Art), housed in the Octagonal Hall at the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.  Perhaps by then we will be able to publicly share how the New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan, HSI-ICE and the Italian Carabinieri moved this case successfully forward. 


May 25, 2022

Justice Rendered: The final confiscation of properties and business enterprises of Gianfranco Becchina has been confirmed.

DIA Seizing Gianfranco Becchina assets in 2017

Italy's Direzione Investigativa Antimafia, the country's Anti-Mafia Investigation Department has issued a confirmation confiscation decree based upon a request from the Public Prosecutor's Office of Palermo.  As per this decree, this action finalises the confiscation of a significant portion of movable, real estate and corporate assets "attributable to a well-known international trader of works of art art and artefacts of historical-archaeological value" long suspected to have links with the Sicilian mafia, in and around the port town of Trapani. 

While the DIA's announcement didn't name the, now, 83 year old dealer living in Castelvetrano, the regional newspapers in Sicily did.   

For decades the Trapani branch of the Cosa Nostra is believed to have accumulated at least some portions of its wealth through the proceeds of illicit archaeological finds.  Some of which were procured through grave robbers working at the isolated Archaeological Park of Selinunte, one of Sicily's great ancient Greek cities, located near Castelvetrano.  This archaeological site covers some 40 hectares and includes Greek temples, ancient town walls, and the ruins of residential and commercial buildings from Italy's past.  Given its remote location, much of the site has not been formally excavated, and it has been prey to opportunistic looters for decades.

To further dismantle the mafia's operational funding in and around Trapani, in November 2017 Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate, through the Court of Trapani's penal and preventive measures section, filed an initial seizure order for all movable assets, including real estate and corporate enterprises attributable to Gianfranco Becchina on the basis of an order issued from the District Attorney of Palermo based upon investigations conducted by the DIA, under the coordination of the Palermo Public Prosecutor's Office on the basis that much of Becchina's accumulated wealth was generated through the proceeds of trafficked antiquities. 

Palazzo dei Principi Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli

The preliminary 2017 order included the seizure of Becchina's cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., Olio Verde srl., his signature olive oil production company, Demetra srl., Becchina & company srl.  Real estate holdings confiscated included some 38 buildings as well as Becchina's portions of Palazzo dei Principi Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, once the noble residence of the family Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, which is part of the ancient Castello Bellumvider, (an additional part of this palazzo is owned by the city of Castelvetrano and houses the town hall).  Investigators also seized a total of 24 parcels of land belonging to Becchina, and four vehicles.  In total, the value of the seized assets is estimated to be worth more than 10 million euros. 

Giovanni Franco Becchina (b. 1939) was born in Sicily. In the 1970s, he established a business, Palladion Antike Kunst, in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife Ursula.  For almost forty years Becchina headed one of Italy's most notorious “cordata” (a trafficking cell) in a lucrative criminal enterprise that used gangs of tombaroli to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout southern Italy.

It is well-documented that Becchina and other traffickers like him, laundered their looted antiquities through exhibitions at museums and in private collections with manufactured provenance, providing a thin veneer of respectability to material removed from Italy and laundered through the ancient art market. 

In 2001, Becchina was arrested in Italy and charged with receiving stolen goods, illegally exporting goods, and conspiring to traffic goods. In May 2002, the Swiss and Italian authorities raided Palladion Antike Kunst and three of Becchina’s located storage facilities.  A fourth was raided in 2005. 

In 2011, Judge Rosalba Liso dismissed the charges of receiving stolen goods, illegally exporting goods, and conspiring to traffic goods, due to the running of the statute of limitations.  However, the Judge in the case confirmed the seizure order for the 5,919 antiquities Becchina had in stock at the time the 2002 and 2005 search warrants were executed.  Material evidence obtained during these seizures c confirmed that Becchina bought antiquities directly from tombaroli. Over 90% came from a single source: convicted tombarolo (and later capo squadra in his own right) Raffaele Monticelli.

December 8, 2020

Italian Senator Margherita Corrado commenting on two suspect Roman altars at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art

Last week Italian Senator Margherita Corrado (5-star Movement) signed a motion to create an organization to recover works of art that have left the national territory of Italy.  Signed by many senators of the Movimento 5 Stelle, the motion undertakes to create "a special independent body that has, as its institutional purpose, the recovery of works of art illegally removed from the national territory, activating all remedies and the legal instruments that the legal system makes available for this purpose". 

Her motion calls for Italy to look more broadly into utilizing a pool of experts with knowledge and experience concerning art and antiquities identified in circulation in the art market, as well as in private and public museum collections in order to establish strategies, both legal and diplomatic, to facilitate claims for art and artefacts whose origins are proven to be illicit. 

On December 4th Senator Corrado publicised a pointed press release via Facebook, calling out the J. Paul Getty Museum in California and the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida for having two altars of suspect origin. 

Screenshot cache: Tampa Museum of Art 

Although the find spots of these Rome artefacts are uncertain, they can be linked to the Caltilii of Ostia who built a temple and kept the status of cultores of an international religion involving Isis and Serapis in the port city outside of Rome.  At least one of the two antiquities the senator mentioned is known to have passed through the hands of Gianfranco Becchina who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. 

ARCA has printed Senator Margherita Corrado's statement in its entirety in Italian here as well as with an English translation of her statement below. 

COMUNICATO STAMPA

Due musei privati alle opposte estremità degli Stati Uniti, il Paul Getty Museum di Los Angeles (California) ed il Tampa Museum of Art (Florida), espongono altrettanti altari funerari in marmo risalenti alla prima metà del II secolo. Relativi entrambi a membri della gens Caltilia e allocati forse allo stesso sepolcro di famiglia, sono il frutto di scavi clandestini condotti ad Ostia negli anni ’70 del Novecento per essere poi esportati illegalmente all’estero. 

Nel merito, a proposito dell’ara oggi a Malibù, che reca i busti-ritratto dei coniugi L. Caltilius Stephanus e Caltilia Moschis, nell’archivio di Gianfranco Becchina è stata trovata la proposta di vendita (1980) ad un terzo museo statunitense fatta dalla sua Antike Kunst Palladion per conto di un collezionista svizzero, verosimilmente lo stesso che nel 1983 avrebbe poi ‘donato’ l’altare al Getty.

Quanto all’ara oggi a Tampa, che menziona L. Caltilius Diadumenus, riconoscibile nel busto-ritratto associato, e il suo liberto Euhodus, il portale ufficiale del museo asserisce trattarsi di un acquisto fatto con denaro messo a disposizione "dai collezionisti" nel 1991, dunque ben dopo la ratifica USA (1983) della Convenzione UNESCO di Parigi 1970 ma prima di adottare, nel 2011, una nuova "Collections Managment Policy", e rivederla ulteriormente nel 2013: una presa di distanza dell’attuale governance del museo dalla precedente strategia di incremento delle collezioni, evidentemente poco rispettosa della legalità. 

Con apposita interrogazione, pubblicata dal Senato in questi giorni, ho chiesto a Franceschini se sia a conoscenza “di indagini, eseguite o in corso, tese ad accertare modalità e tempi di acquisizione degli altari dei Caltili da parte dei musei di Los Angeles e Tampa”; nonché, “se intenda riferire quali iniziative il suo dicastero abbia assunto o intenda assumere per dimostrare ai due musei statunitensi, che oggi li espongono, l’origine ostiense dei manufatti e chiederne la restituzione sia sulla base della mancanza di prove attestanti la liceità dell’esportazione, mentre ne esistono per affermare che almeno una delle due arae fu immessa sul mercato statunitense da una società implicata nel traffico internazionale di reperti archeologici, sia, soprattutto, in considerazione della possibilità di acquisire meriti sul piano culturale restituendole al loro contesto d’origine, unico modo per accrescerne sensibilmente il valore documentale.”

[English Translation]

Statement to the Press

Two private museums at opposite ends of the United States, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, and the Tampa Museum of Art, Florida, exhibit marble funerary altars dating back to the first half of the 2nd century CE. Relative to both institutions, two of these artefacts relate to two members of the Caltilian family, linked to the Caltilii of Ostia, perhaps taken from the same family tomb, as the result of illegal excavations conducted in Ostia in the 1970s and then illegally exported abroad. 

[Documents] regarding the altar on display in Malibu, which depicts the funerary portrait busts of L(ucius) Caltilius G(aiae) Libertus Hilarus and Caltilia L(ucii) L(iberta) Felicula can be found in the archive of Gianfranco Bacchina and include a proposal made out by his company, Antike Kunst Palladion, to sell the artefact in 1980 to a third U.S. museum on behalf of a Swiss collector, probably the same individual who, in 1983, then 'donated' the funerary altar to the Getty

As for the altar to be found in Tampa, which mentions L. Caltilius Diadumenus as the person who commissioned the funerary altar for his freedman, Euhodus, the museum's official portal claims that the artefact was purchased with money made available "by the collectors" in 1991, well after the US ratification (1983) of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in Paris but before adopting a new Collections Management Policy in 2011 and further revising it in 2013: distancing the current governance of the museum from its previous strategy of increasing the collections, which evidently was not very respectful of legalities.

With a specific question, published by the [Italian]  Senate in recent days, I have asked [Dario] Franceschini [serving as Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism] if he is aware of "investigations, carried out or in progress, aimed at ascertaining the methods and times for the acquisition of the Caltili altars by the museums in Los Angeles and Tampa"; as well as, "if he intends to report what initiatives his cultural administration has taken or intends to take to demonstrate to the two US museums, which today exhibit them, the Ostiense origin of the artifacts and request their return both on the basis of the lack of evidence attesting to the lawfulness of the export, while evidence exists to affirm that at least one of the two altars was placed on the US market by a company involved in the international traffic of archaeological finds, and, above all, in consideration of the spirit of cultural diplomacy, returning them to their original context, whereby they can be studied in their rightful context."

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.