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April 8, 2022

What about the well known looted vases in the Altes Museum in Berlin?

Left: Medici Archive Polaroid with fragments of the Crater of Persephone,
attributed to the Painter of the Underworld,
Right: 4th century BCE crater as seen at the Altes Museum, Berlin

Tonight there was an interesting plot twist to this year's formal demand by the Public Prosecutor's Offices of Rome and Foggia, who in late January 2022 issued two confiscation decrees, the first from the Gip of Foggia, and the second from the Gip of Rome, Alessandro Arturi, at the request of the Procura del Tribunale Capitolino. These European confiscation orders were sent with an international rogatory request through the Directorate General for International Affairs and Judicial Cooperation of the Ministry of Justice asking for the return of 21 ornate South Italian artefacts currently on exhibition in Germany.   Tonight, at 20:30 CET, on RAI tg24  Spotlight, journalists, archaeologists, curators, and carabinieri officers discuss these artefacts' murky origins.  All the while the viewing audience got to see the overly simplified foot-dragging reticence of the management at the Altes Museum in Berlin towards Italy's determination to prove the illicit nature of these pieces, and to get these objects back.  

Many of the spectacular contested artefacts, date to the 4th century BCE and fall into distinct workshop groups, giving us a rich opportunity to examine how the peoples native to southern Italy used Greek myth to comprehend death and the afterlife in their funerary customs.  Some of the Apulian vessels share stylistic markings which demonstrate that they likely were created by the same attributed "hands", leading Italian experts to strongly believe that the artefacts may have been derived from a singular burial grouping.  

The artisans represented include the Group of Copenhagen 4223, the Varrese painter, the Darius painter, and the Underworld painter.  All of the artefacts had at one point been broken into fragments before being carefully restored and sold on to Wolf Dieter Heilmayer between 1983 and 1984, then at the Berlin archaeological museum located in West Germany.  The German museum director purchased these artefacts via Christoph Leon for 3 million German marks, under the pretext that they had been purportedly part of a historic collection belonging to a Basel family named the Cramers. 

In reality, the red figure vases are believed by the Italian authorities to have been looted, having once adorned a large chamber tomb, likely near Taranto, the coastal city and production centre in southern Italy from c. 430 - c. 300 BCE where many of these vases originate.  The single tomb grouping is something that Martin Maischberger, Deputy Director of the Collection of Classical Antiquities of the National Museums in Berlin contested during his interview, saying that most massive volute-kraters are found in pairs, not in groupings of seven, (three alone attributed to the Darius painter) like those purchased with the fictitious Cramer provenance bought by the museum director's predecessors.  

Strikingly, the German director doesn't take into consideration the wealth of material found at other sites in the Southern half of Italy, sites like Ruvo and the richness of its own tomb-groups or other impressive object groupings from the tombs at Gravina and Rutigliano in Peucetia, where contacts with both Greece and Etruscan painters clearly demonstrate tombs proportionately rich in burial goods. 

While not all the artefacts in the Berlin Tomb group appear in photographs in the now famous Medici Archive, four of them are, and point clearly towards the illicit nature of these finds.  

In this case, in three different groupings of Polaroids, specifically:
  • one grouping of fifteen photographs, 
  • one grouping of six photographs,
  • and one grouping of two photographs. 
All three sets of images depict artefacts now in the Altes Museum in various stages of restoration, the most important of which is the exceptional krater by the Darius Painter.

Giacomo Medici archive photos of looted artefacts
presently on display at the Altes Museum

While not all of the Apulian artefacts have a "smoking gun" looter photo, the names attached to this transaction are the same, and have been problematic in the past. 

The former head of archaeology at Geneva Museum, Jacques Chamay had previously announced that his research had begun after he had examined a fragment of one of the vases in the Cramer family’s old library, though in tonight's program, reached by phone, he had nothing to say. 

Discounting the judicially soft, but diplomatically polite, cultural diplomacy negotiations as "informal", which up until January had been the preferred approach of the Carabinieri and the Procura of Foggia,  Dr. Maischberger at the Altes Museum remarked that the European confiscation request was the first time the museum had been formally asked to give back the vases.  In this instance, it seems the museum decided the Italian's less stick, more carrot approach meant they weren't serious or that a decision could be avoided?  In either case, asking nicely didn't incentivise or compel the museum's management towards restitution because only 4 of the disputed artefacts have definitive proof of looting photos seized from Giacomo Medici's storage facility on the fourth floor of the Ports Francs & Entrepôts de Genève, specifically Corridor 17, Room 23, on the 13th of September 1995.   

Giacomo Medici at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

During the Italian Spotlight news broadcast, Italians also heard from someone at the heart of Italy's illicit art market and the original holder of the Medici Polaroids, Giacomo Medici himself. 

Interviewed on camera for the first time, by investigative journalist Raffaella Cosentino, the former antiquities dealer seemed both soundly arrogant and at times cagy, admitting little even under direct questioning.  He avoided answering tough questions and instead preferred to underscore that he had served his time and paid his fines.  He also reminded his interviewer that in some instances the judicial process did not prove conclusively he had committed certain crimes.  

While Medici matter of factly talked about the seven boxes of photographs returned to him at the closure of his court case, he skipped over the fact that these images  represent the massive corpus of some 4000 artefacts that he handled during his years as an antiquities dealer.  He also failed to mention that he cultivated contacts among Italy's impoverished tombaroli, other wealthy corrupt dealers, Museum directors and conservators, who all turned a blind eye to the less than pristine origins of his wares.  Instead he preferred to mention loopholes or that he sold his antiquities of Switzerland, because Italy had rules against selling objects illicitly excavated. 

For what it is worth, and as a reminder, on 13 December 2004 Giacomo Medici was charged with receiving stolen goods, illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic via the Tribunal of Rome. The judge found that more than 95% of Medici’s antiquities—both those found in his Geneva warehouse as well as those depicted in the 4,000 seized photographs— were looted from Italy. Therefore, concerning the 3,800 antiquities recovered from the Geneva warehouse, the judge ordered the confiscation of approximately 3,400. Of the 400 that were not confiscated, 258 were returned to Switzerland: 179 because they had been looted in Greece, from sites on Paros, Crete, and the mainland (and, therefore, not subject to Italian law), and 79 because they were not authentic (and, therefore, were not the subject of the criminal investigation). For fewer than 150 of the 3,800 hundred antiquities—3.9% of his collection—did Medici provide any prior provenance.

On 15 July 2009 the Italian Appellate Court affirmed Medici's convictions for receiving stolen goods and conspiracy relating to the illicit trafficking of antiquities.  The affirmed a sentence of eight years of imprisonment alongside a €10 million fine, while the final count, for trafficking, was eliminated due to the expiry of the statute of limitations. 

Despite appealing the Appellate Court's ruling via Italy's Court of Cassation, on 7 December 2011 Giacomo Medici's final appeal was rejected.   Born in 1938 and already a senior citizen by that point, he was allowed to serve his judicial punishment primarily on house arrest at his villa in Santa Marinella, shortened by time off for good behaviour. 

By:  Lynda Albertson


November 8, 2016

Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Etruscan Terracotta Antefix

On November 7, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Bonhams auction house in London on November 30, 2016 traceable to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive.



A screenshot of the provenance/collection history details are added here:


Etruscan buildings were often decorated with polychrome terracotta elements. Antefixes, such as this one on auction, were placed at the end of the rows of roofing tiles located along the eaves of the roof. Usually made in molds, many took the form of male or female mythological characters. 

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archives and the related Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Each of these dealer's archives provide insight inside a network of illicit trade in antiquities and, when combined, include thousands of ancient objects from all over the world which have passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” illicit objects through the licit market.

Two images from image from the confiscated
Medici archive alongside the Bonham Auction Object Lot.


An expert on terracotta figurines, James Chesterman collected avidly and was the author of Classical Terracotta Figures published by Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1974.  In 1984 the Fitzwilliam Museum purchased more than 100 Greek and Roman terracotta figurines from Chesterman's collection, in what is likely to be, in the museum's own words, the last major private collection to enter the Museum.

Who were some of James Chesterman's sources for antiquities?

Conducting a quick search (meaning far from comprehensive) of objects from the Chesterman's collection that have come up on auction tells us a little about some of his sources. 






Medici Archive image provided by
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis
After the closing of his Rome Gallery, Giacomo Medici entered into partnership with Geneva resident Christian Boursaud and opened Hydra Gallery in Geneva in 1983 (Silver 2009: 139). 

This Swiss gallery then began consigning material supplied by Medici for sale on the London market, predominantly through Sotheby's.  (Silver 2009: 121-2, 139; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27). Watson and Todeschini estimated that during the period of the 1980's Medici was the source of more consignments to Sotheby’s London than any other vendor (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27).

If the collection history on the Bonhams Lot is accurate, then Medici's pieces were also appearing on the Paris antiquities market during that same period. If it isn't, then this object is missing a passage from its London history.

Dr. David Gill also has analyzed this new sighting, adding his own research in this Looting Matters blog post. 
Many have argued that Dr. Tsirogiannis tactics of naming potentially looted objects from the archives via ARCA's blog, David Gill's Looting Matters and on occasion Neil Brodie's Market of Mass Destruction, places auction houses at a disadvantage and should be construed as unfair given the market does not have direct access to the photos in these archives.  A valid point, but given the frequency illicit antiquities continue to penetrate the legitimate art market, we hope this will lead auction houses to consider more stringent reporting requirements of their consignors to insure that they do not inadvertently support the illicit antiquities trade. 

In closing,  given the proven lucrative nature of unprovenanced antiquities on the open market, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol who in turn will notify the Italian authorities of his new identifications. Here's hoping that his continued spotlight, however awkward it is for everyone, will serve as a recurring reminder that we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By: Lynda Albertson
----------------------
Bibliography: 

Lindros Wohl Birgitta, Three female Head antefixes from Etruria,
in The Getty Museum Journal, 12, 1984, pp. 114-116.

Pallottino Massimo, Giuseppe Foti, Antonio Frova, Franco Panvini Rosati (sous la dir. de) Art et civilisation des Étrusques, octobre-décembre 1955, cat. adapté et traduit par Jean Charbonneaux et Marie-Françoise Briguet, Paris

Silver Vernon The lost chalice: the real-life chase for one of the world's rarest masterpieces: a priceless 2,500-year-old artifact depicting the fall of Troy
Harper - 2010

Watson Peter and Todeschini Cecilia The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums
PublicAffairs - 2007




April 11, 2015

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part III

Antiquities trafficking continues to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this last of a three part series, ARCA explores one final art trafficking network that underscores that the ownership and commodification of the past continues long after the traffickers have been identified.

August 31, 1995
Europa Paestan red-figure Asteas signed calyx-krater
In a fluke summer accident, Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man art dealer, lost control of his car on Italy’s Autostrada del Sole, Italy's north-south motorway, as he approached the exit for Cassino, a small town an hour and a half south of Rome.  Smashing into a guardrail and flipping his Renault on its roof, Camera’s automobile accident not only ended his life but set into motion a chain reaction that resulted in a major law enforcement breakthrough that disrupted one of Italy’s largest antiquities trafficking networks.

While the fatal traffic accident fell under the jurisdiction of Italy’s Polizia Stradale, the Commander of the Carabinieri in Cassino was also called to the scene.  The investigating officers had found numerous photographs in Camera's vehicle which substantiated what investigators had already suspected, that the objects depicted in the photos had been illegally-excavated and that Camera had been actively dealing in looted antiquities.
Tombarolo holding Asteas signed calyx-krater

The images in the car were of a hodgepodge of ancient art.  Two that stood out in particular were of a statue in the image of Artemis against the backdrop of home furnishings and a Paestan red-figure calyx-krater, signed by Asteas in what looked to be someone's garage.  

Having been previously assigned to the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the  Commander from Cassino called the TPC’s Division General, Roberto Conforti, who requested a warrant be issued to search the premises of Camera’s apartment in Rome, near Piazza Bologna.

Investigators who carried out the search of Pasquale Camera's personal possessions discovered hundreds of photographs, fake and genuine antiquities,  reams of documentation and the now famous Medici organagram.  This org chart revealed Giacomo Medici’s central position in the organization of the antiquities trade out of Italy.  Interestingly, the wallpaper in Cameria's apartment also matched the background of the photo of the Artemide Marciante found in Camera's vehicle. 

Subsistance Looter to Middle Man

Another photo, of Antimo Cacciapuoti, showed the tombarolo holding the freshly-looted Asteas-signed Europa krater.  A copy of this photo was provided by journalist Fabio Isman for the purpose of this article.  Isman confirmed that this image was one of the Polaroids found in Camera's Renault and went on to add that during later negotiations Cacciapuoti would confess to having been paid 1 million lire plus "a suckling pig" for his work in supplying the krater.

One of the links in Italy's largest known trafficking chain had begun to crack.

Medici Organagram
As the investigation progressed authorities went on to raid Giacomo Medici’s warehouse at the Geneva Freeport in September 1995 and recovered 3,800 objects and another 4,000 photographs of ancient art that had, at one time or another, passed through Medici’s network.

1998  Identifications

Matching seized photos to looted works of art is a laborious process.  Three years after the start of the investigation Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini from the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale at the Villa Giulia, working with the Procura della Repubblica (the state prosecutor's office) and the Court of Rome on this case, identified the Artemide Marciante from the photo found at the scene of Camera's fatal auto accident.  The photo of the statue matched another found in a June 1998 issue of House and Garden Magazine and another photo seized from Giacomo Medici which showed the object unrestored and with dirt still on it.  This statue was ultimately recovered from Frieda Tchacos.

Rizzo and Pellegrini also identified the location of the Paestan red-figure calyx krater, painted and signed by Asteas.  It had been sold by the dealer Gianfranco Becchina to the John Paul Getty Museum in 1981.
2001-2005 More Seizures

In the early years of the new century law enforcement authorities investigating this trafficking cell widened their attention on Gianfranco Becchina, whose name was listed on  the organagram, placing him as head of a cordata and as a primary supplier to Robert Hecht.  This important lead convinced investigators to explore Becchina's suspected involvement in this trafficking cell. 

As the investigation continued authorities seized 140 binders containing 13,000 more documents, 8,000 additional photographs of suspect objects and 6,315 artworks from Becchina's storage facilities and gallery.

But the purpose of this article is not to rehash a 19-year old story already detailed in “The Medici Conspiracy” by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini.    It is now fairly common knowledge that an estimated 1.5 million items have been looted from Italy's myriad archaeological sites during the past four decades and a surprising number of these illicit objects have ended up in some of the world's most prestigious museums via ancient art dealers passing through the hands of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Emanuel Hecht Jr., and Robin Symes.

Instead, this article focuses on what is happening in the present and serves to demonstrate that despite the nearly two decades that have past since Pasquale Camera's car veered off Italy's A-1 autostrada, suspect illicit antiquities, traceable to this network, continue to be sold, often openly, on the lucrative licit art market.

To underscore the conundrum of looted to legitimate Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis a Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project, housed in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow has highlighted four objects for sale at Christie’s upcoming antiquities auction in London, on Wednesday, 15 April 2015.  For the last eight years (2007-present), Tsirogiannis has been identifying looted and ‘toxic’ antiquities as they come up for sale from photographic evidence he was given by authorities from the three primary dossiers of photographs derived from the property seizures in these cases.

Each of these four objects listed below have been identified by Tsirogiannis as having corresponding photos in these archives, something potential purchasers may want to consider when bidding on antiquities that, at face value, are reported to have legitimate collection histories.

SALE 10372 Lot 83 Property of a Gentlemen
Provenance: Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16.
Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
Beazley archive no. 26090. 

SALE 10372 Lot 102 Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner.  

SALE 10372 Lot 108 Property from a London Collection
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1986, lot 183, when acquired by the present owner.

SALE 10372 Lot 113: Property from a Private Collection, Canada
Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998.

At first blush, review of Christie's sales notes on these objects seems to demonstrate a modicum of collecting history pedigree which normally would serve to comfort potential buyers.  None of the auction lot however go on to reveal where these objects were found, or whether their excavation and exportation from their country of origin were legal.  

This should be the first alarm bell to any informed collector considering a purchase on the licit antiquities market.  ARCA reminds its readers and buyers of art works that lack of this information in an object's collection history should be a strong signal that the object may be suspect and that it is better to walk away from a beautiful antiquity than purchase an object that quite possibly may have been looted or illegally exported.

Extracts from Notes by Dr. Tsirogiannis on the Christie's Auction Lots

Regarding Lot 83
Christie's catalogue does not include any collecting history of this Greek amphora before its appearance in Japan in the 1980's. Documentation in the Becchina archive links Becchina to three German professors regarding the examination of the amphora in the 1970's.

Regarding Lot 102 
From Watson's and Todeschini's book, we know that in the 1980's Medici used to consign antiquities to Sotheby's in London, through various companies and individuals.  Why does the Christies auction not include any collecting history before the 1985 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 108

Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue does not include any collecting history of this antiquity before the 1986 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 113
Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue is not precise about the collecting history of this antiquity prior to 1998.

Are these Notifications Helpful?

In the past, when Dr. Tsirogiannis or Dr. David Gill have pointed out objects with tainted collection histories, dealer association members and private collectors have countered by screaming foul. They have asked,
Others have criticized this practice saying that by outing sellers and auction houses on their tainted inventory, the objects simply get pulled from auction and proceed underground.  Detractors believe that this leaves dealers to trade illicit objects in more discreet circles, where screenshots and image capture are less accessible to investigators and researchers and where the change of hands from one collector to another adds a future layer of authenticity, especially where private collections in remote location buyers are less likely to be questioned.

I would counter these concerns by saying that researchers working on this case diligently work to not impede ongoing investigations by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and Italy's Procura della Repubblica and to notify the appropriate legal authorities in the countries where these auctions take place.   In the case of these four antiquities INTERPOL, the Metropolitan Police and the Italian Carabinieri have been notified.

But police officers and dedicated researchers only have so many sets of eyes and the prosecution of art crime requires dedicated investigators and court hours not often available to the degree to which this complex problem warrants.   To mitigate that, it is time that we dedicate more time educating the opposite end of the looting food chain; the buyer.

The academic community needs to learn to apply persuasive, not adversarial, pressure on the end customer; the buyers and custodians of objects from our collective past.  By helping buyers become better-informed and conscientious collectors we can encourage them to demand that the pieces they collect have thorough collection histories or will not be purchased.  As discerning buyers become more selective, dealers will need to change their intentionally blind-eye practice of passing off suspect antiquities with one or two lines of legitimate buyers attached to them.  

Buyers would also be wise to apply the same pressure to auction houses that they apply to dealers, persuading them to adopt more stringent policies on accepting consignments.  Auction houses in turn should inform consignors that before accepting items for consignment that have limited collection histories they will be voluntarily checking with authorities to see if these objects appear in these suspect photo dossiers.  In this way the legitimate art market would avoid the circular drama of having their auctions blemished with reports of trafficked items going up for sale to unsuspecting buyers or to having gaps in their auction schedule when auction houses are forced to withdraw items on the eve of an upcoming sale.

In April 2014 James Ede, owner of a leading London-based gallery in the field of Ancient Art and board member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wrote an article in defense of the antiquities trade in Apollo Magazine where he stated:

The IADAA's Code of Ethics states: "The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."

In the past Mr. Ede has stated that small dealers couldn't afford to use private stolen art databases such as those at the Art Loss Register.  I would ask Mr. Ede in the alternative how many London dealers registered with the IADAA have ever picked up the phone and asked Scotland Yard's art squad to check with INTERPOL or their Italian law enforcement colleagues when accepting a consignment where the collecting histories of an object deserved a little more scrutiny? 

Or better still, should the more than 14,000 photos of objects from these dossiers ever be released, to private stolen art databases or to a wider public audience, how would the IADAA ensure that its membership actually cross-examine the entire archival record before signing off that the object is not tainted? Mr. Ede has also indicated previously that the IADAA only requires its members to do checks on objects worth more than £2000.  Items of lessor value would take too much time or prove too costly to the dealers.

In 2015 is it correct for dealers to remain this passive and wait for law enforcement to tell them something is afoot?  Would the general public accept such an attitude from used car sellers regarding stolen cars?

Given that Mr. Ede is the former chairman and board member since the founding of the IADAA, an adviser of the British Government, a valuer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and a member of the council of the British Art Market Federation his thoughts on this matter carry considerable weight in the UK.  As such he is scheduled to speak on April 14, 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum on "The Plunder: Getting a global audience involved in the story of stolen antiquities from Iraq and Syria."

I am curious how Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General Art and Museums, Syria  who is also speaking at this event would feel about low valued items being excluded from the IADAA's "clean or tainted" cross checks or if Mr. Ede has any workable suggestions that would actually begin to address this problem in an active, rather than passive way among the art dealing community.  

Will blood antiquities be held to a higher standard of evaluation given the public's interest while it remains business as usual for objects looted from source countries not involved in civil war or conflict?

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

Antoniutti, A., and C. Spada. "Fabio Isman, I predatori dell'arte perduta. Il saccheggio dell'archeologia in Italia." Economia della Cultura 19.2 (2009): 301-301.
Gill, David,   "Almagià: "It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that" Looting Matters (August 2010)

Felch, Jason, and Ralph Frammolino. "Chasing Aphrodite. The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum." (2001).

Isman, Fabio "Un milione di oggetti clandestini" Il Giornale di Arte, (May 2011)

Marconi, Clemente, ed. Greek Vases: Images, Contexts and Controversies; Proceedings of the Conference Sponsored by The Center for the Ancient Mediterranean at Columbia University, 23-24 March 2002. Vol. 25. Brill, 2004.
Watson, Peter, and Cecilia Todeschini. "The Medici Conspiracy: Organized Crime, Looted Antiquities, Rogue Museums." (2006).







June 1, 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Python bell-krater acquired in 1989 matches object documented in confiscated Medici archive, according to forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis: "The evidence suggests that the vase has most likely been unlawfully removed from Italian soil"

Medici polaroid of Python's bell-krater 
The Classic Greek mixing-bowl attributed to the artist Python (active ca. 350 – 325 BC) of Poseidonia (Paestan) on display in Gallery 161 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City should be returned to Italy because it has no collecting history before 1989 and has been matched with photographs in the possession of a convicted art dealer, according to the work of looted antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis. (You can see The Met’s description of the object online here ). 

This terracotta bell-krater, described in detail in Dr. Tsirogiannis’ column "Nekyia" in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, appears with soil/salt encrustations in five photographs from the confiscated Medici archive – including one Polaroid image. Then, “The object was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in June 1989 and the same year appeared as part of The Met’s antiquities collection,” Dr. Tsirogiannis reports.

Medici photograph of Python bell-krater
Art dealer Giacomo Medici was convicted in 2005 of participating in the sale of looted antiquities. The story of how illicit antiquities were sold to art galleries and museums in Europe and North America was detailed in the 2006 book by Peter Watson & Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy’s tomb raiders to the world’s greatest museums (Public Affairs). The Medici archives (or the “Medici Dossier”)  were described as “thirty albums of Polaroids, fifteen envelopes with photographs, and twelve envelopes with rolls of film … [along with] 100 full rolls of exposed film … [for] a total of 3,600 images” found in Medici’s warehouse of antiquities in Geneva in 1995.

Christos Tsirogiannis and archaeologist David Gill have both written in The Journal of Art Crime (and elsewhere) about ancient objects for sale at auction houses with dubious collecting histories, focusing on information from this “Medici Dossier”. In 2009, Gill wrote in his column “Context Matters” that the raid on Medici’s warehouse drew attention to the scale of looting of archaeological sites in Italy.

Medici close up of Python's bell-krater on display at The Met
In this current case of identification, photographs of The Met’s Python bell-krater in the archive of the convicted art dealer Giacomo Medici suggest – as pointed out in The Medici Conspiracy – along with the lack of earlier documented collecting history that this vase was very likely illegally excavated after 1970 (the date of the UNESCO Convention against illicit trade antiquities), Dr. Tsirogiannis writes in “A South Italian Bell-Krater by Python in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” (Spring 2014, The Journal of Art Crime). He explains:
The bell-krater is photographed using Polaroid technology not commercially available until after 1972; the krater is situated not in its archaeological context with a measuring tool, but with soil encrustations, on an armchair; in the regular photographs, the vase appears against a background whose brick-red colour seems clumsily matched with the dark red velvet surface, the same surface on which Medici photographed several other antiquities which later proved to be illicit and were repatriated to Italy (e.g. the 20 red-figure plates attributed to the Bryn Mawr Painter, once offered to the Getty Museum; see Watson & Todeschini 2007:95-98, 205; Silver 2010:138-139, 143). It is profoundly clear that the bell-krater was not in a professional environment or treated in a professional way.
Fourth photo of Medici's bell-krater
Dr. Tsirogiannis, a Greek forensic archaeologist, studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, he has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying Italy's public prosecutor Dr. Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

In this case of The Met's Python bell-krater, Dr. Tsirogiannis questions how the ancient mixing bowl reached Sotheby’s in 1989 (Sotheby’s has a policy of not disclosing the name of the consigners or the buyers of objects). Dr. Tsirogiannis writes:
The Met has a long history of acquiring looted and smuggled antiquities after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The two most prominent cases were the Euphronios krater acquired in 1972 from the notorious dealer Robert Hecht during the directorship of Thomas Hoving, and the Morgantina treasure acquired in 1981, again from Hecht, during the directorship of Philippe de Montebello. On February 21, 2006, de Montebello signed an agreement in Rome to return both krater and treasure to Italy among 21 antiquities in total (Provoledo 2006). In January 2012, Italy announced the repatriation of c. 40 vase fragments from The Met; Fabio Isman revealed that the fragments matched vases already repatriated to Italy from North American museums, and noted that these fragments previously belonged to the private collection, kept in The Met, of the museum’s antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer (Italian Ministry of Culture 2012; Isman 2012).
Fifth Medici photo of Python bell-krater
Dietrich van Bothmer, who had a 60-year career at The Met as a curator and an expert in ancient Greek vases, died in 2009 (here's his obituary in The New York Times).

Dr. Tsirogiannis points out in his column the need for further academic research on the Python bell-krater acquired in 1989:
The identification of the vase in the Medici archive, with the handwritten note below the Polaroid image, not only suggests that the vase has most likely been unlawfully removed from Italian soil, but also highlights discrepancies between published interpretations of the main scene depicted on the vase.
In conclusion, Dr. Tsirogiannis writes in his column:
The Met has several questions to answer. What is the ‘Bothmer Purchase Fund’? It has been proved that Dietrich von Bothmer played a crucial role in the acquisition of archaeological material, looted and smuggled after 1970, both on behalf of The Met and for his personal collection formed during the same period (Gill 2012:64; this obvious conflict of interest was overlooked by the museum; see Felch 2012, Tsirogiannis & Gill forthcoming 2014). My email to The Met (February 7, 2014) querying this point and requesting the full collecting history of the krater, remains unanswered, although it was sent to three different offices. No contact details for the Department of Greek and Roman Art are available on the museum website. In a wider perspective, the Python bell-krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of many similar cases. North American museums, recently found to have acquired illicit antiquities, and forced to return those objects, still have in their possession many more. The very museums which advertise their case for transparency, in practice continue to conceal the full collecting history of tainted objects they own, and wait for them to be discovered. In this regard, the story of the Python bell-krater case is obviously typical.
In an email to the ARCA blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote that American and Italian authorities have been informed about this identification, and added:
It seems that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after the identification of the Bothmer kylix fragments and their repatriation to Italy last year, has to do much more work to present all the antiquities that lack a pre-1970 collecting history in its collection, rather than waiting to be confronted with more cases in the future. This will be honest due diligence, not just meaningless words in official statements.
You may read Dr. Tsirogiannis’ column in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing via the ARCA website or ordering the issue through Amazon.com.

Included in this post are the five photographs of the Python bell-krater in the Medici archive.

The Met owns another terracotta bell-krater (mixing bowl) attributed to Python that it purchased in 1976 and has on view in Gallery 171.

Here's a link to a video showing the three Greek temples at Paestum in Southern Italy and another link to a video showing how ancient Greek vases were made out of refined baked clay.

June 29, 2020

Object Alert: An Illicit antiquity breezes through the windy city

Hindman Auction Catalogue - 16 June 2020
Lot 157
Most of the time, when one thinks of illicit antiquities one imagines them transiting their way through lofty auction showrooms in London, New York, or more recently, as was in the news last week, Paris.  One doesn't usually suspect a homegrown auction house, from the windy city of Chicago, as a place to spot hot art that once passed through the hands of one of Italy's most notorious bad boys, art dealer Giacomo Medici.  But the market for looted or unprovenanced cultural property in America is still going strong and plundered artefacts have the tendency to scatter farther than you think.  Sometimes, when they do, they turn up in places that we don't expect, well, at least until we do.

An art dealer who post-sentence resides in an expansive seaside villa west of Rome, Giacomo Medici was convicted 13 December 2004 of participation in an organized criminal group as its principal promoter and organizer.  Men in his network plundered large swaths of Italy's territory, with the network's loot making its way into some of the world's most prestigious museums and lining the shelves of extravagant private collections.  But despite the sixteen years that have past since his conviction, Medici's ill-gotten wares continue to bubble to the surface, not unlike Italian gnocchi, one object at a time, in slow dribs and drabs and usually not even mentioning his name as was the case with this recent artefact.

This time, in late June, an investigation lead by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in collaboration with the New York District Attorney's Office and the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage turned up another one of Giacomino's antiquities, this time at Chicago's very own, Hindman Auctioneers, a firm which merged in 2019 with Ohio-based Cowan's and shortened its name from Leslie Hindman to just plain Hindman

Photographed on pages 116 and 117 of Hindman's 16 June 2020 Antiquities and Islamic Art catalogue, Lot 15, A Roman Marble Torso of a Faun with a Goose lists the artefact's provenance succinctly: 

Private Collection. London, acquired in New York in the early 1990s 
Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch. London, 2013

What was provided to back up this claim, or what import, export, or shipping documents were submitted to demonstrate that this Italian antiquity's passages into the United States previously, then back across the sea to the UK, then back into Chicago were legitimate, leaves me curious. 

With no difficulty, and without auction consignment profits to incentivise (or disincentivise) my due diligence, I was quickly, and without too much trouble, able to find and cross-reference the 2013 sale via the Forge & Lynch Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) catalogue.   This sales PDF documented the previous sale of the mythological half-human, half-goat, creature with a discreet tail in a two-page spread.

Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.,
Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) Catalogue - 2013

Joint proprietors of the art dealership Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., Forge and Lynch left Sotheby’s in London in 1997 when the auction house began winding down its London antiquities sales and continued working together for their own ancient art gallery formed in the UK in July 2000.  Both art dealers are familiar with the problem children antiquities dealers of yesteryear from their Sotheby's days, and both have continued to get their reputations scorched brokering suspect art via more recent problematic dealers like Subhash Kapoor. 

So even without Medici's name clearly printed on anything provenance-y provided by the Faun's consignor to Hindman, one has to question first where Forge & Lynch themselves got the piece, and secondly, their own provenance entry for the earlier sale of this artefact, which reads: 

Probably acquired in New York, early 1990s  
Private collection, London, early 1990s-2013

This entry leads me to ask why Hindman changed the "probably acquired in New York" to definitely acquired in New York.  It is also curious why Hindman left off the non-specific "Private collection" in London which at first shakes, might appear less problematic than Robin Symes, whose name appears elsewhere in the June catalogue for LOT 83 from this sale. 

Did someone at Hindman find paperwork that changed the Faun's purported New York acquisition from probable into definite?  And what about that private collection in London from the 1990s until 2013.  Wasn't that one line, even vaguely written, not naming names worth mentioning on the big empty space of the full-page advertisement for the sculpture?  So why did Hindman elect to omit this detail?  

My hunch is that Hindman, who voluntarily relinquished the sculpture of the Faun to the authorities once evidence was presented by law enforcement, operates under the assumption that the occasional confiscation of a found-to-be-looted antiquity identified in their sales catalogues is a reasonable cost of doing business in the murky world of ancient art.  

Risks Hindman has already proved willing to take in the past and that illicit antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis, cooperating with HSI-ICE, pointed out in an earlier Hindman auction, published in the auction house's Worldly Pursuits: An Adventurer’s Collection. The Estate of Steve and Peggy Fossett catalogue. In that sale, Tsirogiannis identified three antiquities which matched archival photos in the Medici and Symes archives which proved that the objects had once passed through, or been shared with the networks of Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Christo Michaelides.

But let's go back to this month's Hindman, June 16th auction catalogue.  In this summer's sale, 127 objects out of 273 are listed without any provenance dates whatsoever.  Of the 146 remaining objects included in the catalogue which do list some date references:

15 show collection history dates which predate the UNESCO 1970s convention;
12 show collection history dates only to the 1970s;
85 show collection history dates only to the 1980s;
32 show collection history dates only to the 1990s;
and 2 only go back as far as the 2000s.

Knowing that illicit trafficking eyes cannot monitor every single sale, or inquire about every single object consigned to every auction house around the world, leaving out provenance details creates an environment conducive for a game of risk, with dealers more than willing to play, chalking up any losses from the occasional identified object after it has been illegally exported, as inventory shrinkage.

By limiting the details of what is written in provenance descriptions for objects being sold, dealers and auction houses create intentional impediments to those who try to research an object's legitimacy, making it more difficult to discern when an antiquity has passed through the hands of suspect dealers and when a legitimate object has simply been badly documented by a previous owner careless with their receipts.  And that's just speaking to those interested enough, and with the time to dedicate to actually monitor the previous sales of ancient artefacts.

According to a new report published to the LiveAuctioneers website, this inaugural Hindman ancient art auction brought in nearly $1M in sales, proving once again, that despite all the academics screaming about the necessity for clean provenance, buyers of ancient art, for the most part, are not unduly curious about the collection histories of their potential ancient art purchases.  Likewise, more collectors continue to be oblivious or disengaged as to whether or not the antiquities market is problematic and whether or not their lack of curiosity, and lack of due diligence before buying, acts as a catalyst for the destruction of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean world.

Should Hindman have known better with this artefact and should they have been more forthcoming with all of the collection histories listed for this $1M sale's catalogue? Yes and yes.

Hindman Auctioneers was founded by Leslie Hindman in Chicago in 1982.  The firm was not born yesterday, therefore they should be aware of the problems of illicit material infiltrating the ancient art market.  Thomas Galbraith who took over from Leslie Hindman as CEO of the company she founded, (she remains on the board) previously worked as Artnet’s director of global strategy and as interim CEO for Google Venture's start-up Twyla, an online sales platform for art, meaning they both are experienced in art world sales. Given the people at Hindman's helm, and the company's sales presence on the Live Auctioneers sales portal, it also stands to reason that the Chicago auction house has employees with sufficient technical abilities and talent to Google the legitimacy of the objects they accept on consignment and the names of dealers which are problematic.  Given that neither Galbraith nor Hindman are new to the problems of the world, one can assume that their lack of transparency when it comes to collection publishing collection histories for the objects they auction is a conscious choice.

But despite all this, the windy city seems to be gaining ground in the art market. Phillips and Bonhams, both based in London, having opened there, alongside already existing Christie's, and Sotheby's, to keep Hindman company. And browsing through the names of important London and New York ancient art dealers like Charles Ede Ltd., and Royal Athena Galleries whose's pieces were selling in this June's Hindman catalogue, it seems apropos to remind collectors of ancient art (once again) of the need to open their eyes and ask for proof of legitimacy, before simply forking over cash for what might turn out to be tomorrow's new seizure. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 1, 2017

Three years in the making: The case of “A South Italian Bell-Krater by Python in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” results in seizure.

On June 1, 2014 this blog published a distilled version of an academic investigation which heavily documented details from an article in the Spring 2014 Journal of Art Crime which highlighted the illicit origin of a possibly trafficked Bell-krater.  The author of the peer-reviewed journal article, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, is an expert on illicit antiquities trafficking and objects identification who also teaches with ARCA's as part of our postgraduate art crime program.* 

At the time ARCA published Tsirogiannis' long-form article, the krater was on display in Gallery 161 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Attributed to the artist Python (active ca. 350 – 325 BCE) of Poseidonia (Paestan), the vase depicts Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, along with a flute-playing companion.

By comparing a series of five photos which are part of the confiscated and now infamous Medici archive, Tsirogiannis believed that the krater should be seized from the Met Museum, as the likelihood of it having been looted was quite high.

The photos reviewed by Tsirogiannis were part of the art market records of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2005 of receiving stolen goods and conspiracy to traffic looted antiquities. Given the presence of one damning polaroid in particular, it seemed very probable that this vase had passed through Medici's known network of suppliers who dealt in looted objects.

Medici polaroid of Python's bell-krater
The Polaroid SX-70 camera model was a boon in DIY photography, but the point and shoot camera did not arrive on the European market until 1972. As the new technology produced clear images with no separate negatives, its ready-in-a-instant photos could not be manipulated or altered.  They also didn't require a visit to a risky photo lab in order to develop rolls of film, making them perfect for amateur pornographers.

But the Polaroid SX-70 also became the camera of choice among many Italian looters of the period. The camera's instant photo capabilities meant traffickers too didn't have to worry about the photomat attendant making extra copies or notifying the authorities if their photos were deemed suspicious. By bypassing the film developing stage, the Polaroid photos could be shared directly between looter, middleman or antiquities dealer directly reducing the chance of detection.  This advent of this type of photography offered traffickers and their dealer counterparts with authentic and voyeuristic antiquities porn, which often memorialized the harsh reality of the looters handiwork.

Many such images, as with a Polaroid picture of Python's bell-krater, were found in Medici's confiscated business records.  In other repatriation cases, these photos have been used in evidentiary proceedings to establish object identifications and as documentation of the passages the object took from looter to dealer to the licit market.  So while the photos once were a book for the criminal they now serve law enforcement as evidence resulting in antiquities forfeiture from some of the world's most prestigious museums.

Some of the Polaroids in Medici's archive show antiquities in the trunks of cars, spread out on kitchen tables or on floors. In the photo of this particular Bell-Krater, the object appears to have been placed on a rose-coloured upholstered chair or sofa.   This same background surface can be seen in another Medici archive photo analyzed by Maurizio Pellegrini and Daniela Rizzo of Italy’s Soprintendenza Beni Archeologici Etruria Meridionale at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. That identification involved antiquities which were later proven to be illicit and were repatriated to Italy (e.g. plates attributed to the Bryn Mawr Painter, once offered to the Getty Museum).

The 1972 date of the Polaroid SX-70 arrival in Europe is important as it proves that this object was likely dug up after the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  This international treaty was the first international instrument dedicated to the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property and made it illegal to export cultural property from signatory nations like Italy.  Despite this, the bell-krater arrived to the United States and was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York on June 23, 1989, selling for $90,000.  This is the same year that the object entered the Met’s antiquities collection, acquired by the museum via the Bothmer Purchase Fund, named for the longtime Met curator who died in 2009.**



But let's take a close look at this object and its photographic records, comparing a second Medici dossier photograph of the bell-krater with its counterpart from the Department of Greek and Roman Art collection online at the Metropolitan Museum.

NOTE:  The "See additional object information" link on this Bell-Krater, which would nominally list any and all collecting information the museum chose to document publically regarding this acquisition, was permanently removed from the Metropolitan Museum website.

Photo Left: from Medici's Archive depicting bell-krater highlighting salt encrustations
Photo Right: Archival Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
The Medici archive photo clearly shows the Python Bell-krater with salt encrustations at its base, while the vase's current restored condition in the museum's photo does not.   With this photo comparison we can hypothesize that Giacomo Medici was acutely aware of the vase's existence after 1972 and possibly in direct contact with participants connected with the vase's looting, before the object was restored.

Uncomfortable questions for uncomfortable museums

According to a New York Times article yesterday, July 31, 2017, this bell-krater has been seized by New York State authorities at the behest of an investigation initiated by New York State Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, to which Tsirogiannis provided detailed information.  A copy of the warrant can be found here.  Treading lightly in its opening photo caption, the NYT's article by Tom Mashberg delicately states that "A vessel known as a krater that the Metropolitan Museum of Art turned in to the district attorney’s office in Manhattan after a warrant was issued last week." This makes the seizure seem almost cooperative in nature, which to me seems a bit generous.

Tsirogiannis emailed the Metropolitan Museum on February 7, 2014, asking that his message questioning the object's origins be forwarded to the curatorial staff for the Department of Greek and Roman Art whose email is not available on the museum's website.  In his email he requested a full collecting history of the krater.  His email went unanswered.

The fact that this case was subsequently published in ARCA's Journal of Art Crime which outlined the museum's failure to respond, then in a blog post published on this blog, and again in a May 2017 journalistic piece in the National Geographic should have elicited some sort of public acknowledgement or rebuttal on the museum's part.   Instead the Met continued with its non-responsive stance with Tsirogiannis and failed to acknowledge the brewing conundrum in a proactive way.

In today's New York Times article Mashberg states

Officials said the museum had noticed Dr. Tsirogiannis’s published research in 2014 and, indeed, had been troubled by the reappearance of Mr. Medici’s name in connection with an artifact. They said they reached out informally to the Italian authorities then, but received no response.

It is not clear what "troubled" and "reached out informally means" or why, given the objects connection with a convicted trafficker and its likely looted state, why the museum didn't attempt to repatriate the object voluntarily.

Page 7 of the AAMD guidelines "Introduction to the Revisions to the 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art" reads:

"If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a Work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the Work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a Work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the Work, as has been done in the past."

I guess the museum's voluntary informal notification, its only proactive gesture towards an object of concern in three years, could be commended, but to me their actions towards righting a potential wrong were insufficient.  Yes, the museum brought "this information to the attention of the party" by contacting the Italian authorities as mentioned in the NYT article.  But despite this preliminary step, they failed to respond to an academic researcher's request for further clarification on the object's provenance, then removed the object's spartan collection details from their website completely.

Museums can and should do better.  

While the AAMD is committed to the exercise of due diligence and enhanced transparency in the acquisition process, and to demonstrating that accessioned objects in museum collections are out of their country of modern discovery prior to or legally exported therefrom after November 17, 1970, the Metropolitan Museum only adhered to a fraction of the Association's recommended guidelines in its handling of this object.

Passively waiting for a law enforcement seizure, like a wait and watch approach to a potential cancer,  should not be an acceptable protocol with suspect antiquities which documentation has proved require fuller due diligence. Especially when the museum was well informed that there was a brewing issue surrounding the object in question.

By: Lynda Albertson
_____________________________________________

*You may read Dr. Tsirogiannis’ article on this object in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing via the ARCA website or ordering the issue through Amazon.com.

** Bothmer played a crucial role in the acquisition of archaeological material, looted and smuggled after 1970, both on behalf of the MET and for his personal collection formed during the same period.

February 21, 2017

Auction Alert: Timeline Auctions. February 21, 2017, London, UK

On February 20, 2017 ARCA contacted Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Timeline auction scheduled to start the following day in London, UK at 10:00am GMT.

TimeLine Auctions holds regular auction sales of antiquities from around the world.  Bidding can be done in person, or electronically through their own or associated websites. The firm is a prominent middle-range British dealer in portable antiquities.

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has collaborated with ARCA to draw attention to and identify antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Dr. Tsirogiannis in turn consulted TimeLine Auction's current online sale catalog and reviewed the objects for possible matches.  Contacting us shortly thereafter, he informed us that he had matched not one, but three antiquities traceable to known traffickers of illicit antiquities.

Each of the three ancient objects match conclusively with photos that are found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive (lot 49 and lot 79) and the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive (lot 183).

The items Dr. Tsirogiannis identified as being of possible concern are: 

A Scythian Rhyton with Animal Head: Lot 0049

Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive
NB This photo has been reversed horizontally for matching purposes. 

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has unfortunately been sold for £3,100 including buyer's premium. 

Scythian Moose Inset with Cabochons: Lot 0079


Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive 

Top: Screen Capture
TimelineAuction 02/21/17
Middle and Bottom:
Photos from
Giacomo Medici Archive
The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has also unfortunately been sold for £2,790 including buyer's premium.

Roman Head of a Youth: Lot 0183

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 

"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency with which potentially illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, collectors will be encouraged to do their own due diligence, before acquiring objects for their collections.  In this way new buyers will not be duped into the laundering of objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

While it is likely too late to save the new owners of Lot 0049 and Lot 0079 the headache of having just purchased potentially laundered illicit antiquities, ARCA hopes that Timeline will willingly withdraw the third object, to allow more time for due diligence, now that these identifications have been made.  In this way, the auction firm can avoid passing along another tainted antiquity to an unsuspecting collector.

It also would be nice, if in turn, Timeline shared the consignor/s contact information with the authorities, or encouraged the current owner to contact the authorities so that they could determine if any other suspicious items had been purchased in the past, which may have passed through Symes and Medici's hands.

As always, Tsirogiannis has sent the documentation of his informed suspicions on to law enforcement authorities at INTERPOL.

By Lynda Albertson