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December 6, 2018

From the Rogues' Gallery: The interesting life of Andrew Shannon, convicted (again) in Dublin for possessing a stolen painting

Some art thieves are savvy characters, others are, lets just say, special.

As of this week, burglar, petty criminal, art, and book thief, Andrew Shannon has 52 convictions for burglary, theft and criminal damage.  

Some of his criminal offenses have been mundane, like the 2016 theft of 17 electric toothbrushes worth €200 from a Swords supermarket.  Others have been more peculiar, like the intentional damage he inflicted in December 2014 when he punched Monet's 1874 painting Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat at the National Gallery of Ireland.  That bizarre act resulted in three tears, the longest of which was 25 cm, and took conservators 18 months to repair. 

A serial thief as far back as 2009 Shannon has had a penchant for burgling stately homes, often with accomplices. Travelling from Ireland to target English properties he often posed as a tourist, stealing porcelain vases, ashtrays, books, ornamental lions, figurines, valuable antique books and even a walking stick. 

Carton House in Kildare
The historical family seat of the FitzGerald family.
In 2016 the kleptomaniac was convicted of stealing 57 stolen antique books from the library at Carton House in Kildare, including one of only six rare 1660 editions of the King James Bible. 

His most recent conviction comes from the theft of an 1892 oil painting by Frederick Goodall stolen from Bantry House, in Cork, in March of 2006.  Blaming his sticky fingers on both his heart disease and his addiction to Benzodiazepines and harder substances while recovering from a quadruple heart bypass, the prolific offender filched a surprising array of objects, some of which had very little monetary value. 

In 2016 when law enforcement searched his home, police officers recovered thousands of toothbrushes, oh and Star Wars toys.

I guess the man had a penchant for Sci Fi and clean teeth, as well as art and literature. 

December 4, 2018

A deck swab gives directions, but then there's the law, even for the King of Clams

In 2006 Italian "fisherman" Igli Rosato a.k.a Athos Rosato spoke with US journalist Jason Felch about the fateful day in 1964 when the Victorious Youth bronze was fished from the Adriatic.  In that interview Rosato told the journalist that the statue was hauled up 32 (nautical) miles out from the Italian coast. 

Not good with math or directions evidently, in 2007 Rosato changed his story and said the bronze was hauled in about 43 miles to the east of Mount Conero, promontory situated directly south of the port of Ancona on the Adriatic Sea and about 27 miles from the Croatian coast, from a depth of about 75 meters. 

NOTE: This is the same distance given by the ship's captain, Romeo Pirani in his statements.

Distance between Ancona and Zadar is 123 Nautical miles

Then, in this recent video posted to Italian news this morning, Rosato was filmed saying that the Ferruccio Ferri hauled in their nets somewhere around 37/38 miles from the port of Ancona, and 24/25 miles from Fano.

Even though there are inconsistencies in all of his statements, all the quoted find zones are theoretically outside trans-boundary waters.

But having said that, there are several things to consider when interpreting the reliability and credibility of Rosato's statements.

For example, in 1964, at the time Athos Rosato worked aboard the Ferruccio Ferri as a lowly deck swab, he was just 15 years old.  Not exactly a reliable age or seaworthy position to have developed much in the way of navigational skills or to have a true grasp of directions at sea, map reading, nautical miles or sea depths.  As a testament to the limits of his teenage capabilities, (or who wore the proverbial pants in his family), the smugglers chose to pay Rosato's mother for his portion of the sale price for the bronze the fishermen salvaged-- 120,000 lire, or the equivalent of €60.

Second, in addition to an early career as a wannabe fisherman-smuggler, Rosato is not exactly known for his impeccable character or adult age trustworthiness.  Hang out around the city of Fano and you will hear him called "the King of Clams." Flip through local newspapers and you will be reminded that in 2008, having become an affluent fish entrepreneur, the former deck-hand became caught in a net himself, brought up on charges stemming from an Italian financial crimes investigation, code named Fiscopoli.

Accused of having paid a €240,000 bribe to the tax commissioner of Pesaro to wipe away a €32 million asset assessment for his fishing company, Rosato Athos Vongole srl., the businessman was sentenced to two years in prison, for corruption.  As part of his sentence he had four properties confiscated: his company, an apartment, a villa and a warehouse.  He was also the subject of an assault and kidnapping attempt via a band of scrappy petty criminals, some of whom he had personal and work affiliations with. 

But assuming Rosato's propensity for criminal behavior, bribery and corruption have nothing to do with his memory of nautical miles and the findspot where the bronze statue was fished from the Adriatic when he was a teenager, what does all this international waters stuff mean in relation to Italy's final ruling on the Getty Bronze, I mean the Athlete of Fano?

With the help of a fisheries scientist I looked at the region of the Adriatic directly between Ancona and Zatar.  While the miles Rosato quoted are inconsistent across several of his statements, the depths he and the captain indicated do match the general overall territory of the sea directly between Ancona and Zadar.

That area was also widely trawled by Italian and, at the time, Yugoslavian fishermen. 

But before jumping on the it's-a-Greek-statue-found-in-international-waters the Getty Museum has long claimed, it is worth remembering that the Italian judge in 2009 had already acknowledged that the statue was likely found in international waters.*

So how is it considered Italian? 

What the Getty's press releases and most of the big new sites fail to address is that Article 4 of the Italian Navigation Code states that an Italian flagged vessel or aircraft are considered Italian “territory” for the purposes of applying the country's Patrimony Law and that any “found” object of historical or artistic value hauled aboard said vessel belongs to the State.  Full stop.

From a practical point of view, the State attributes its nationality to its ships by way of registering them in appropriate registers. As each ship can sail under the flag of a single State, by doing so, the Ferruccio Ferri was subject, on the high seas in 1964, to Italy's exclusive jurisdiction.  

Furthermore the statue, once brought onto Italian shore, was hidden away and never registered with the appropriate authorities in violation of the law.  Then it was exported out of Italy in contravention of existing Italian law which requires an export license for any work over fifty years old made by an artist who has died.

The Getty knows all this, it's just electively choosing to focus on the one thread of the subject that cannot be proven definitively --where the feet of the Getty bronze actually still are and instead glosses over the illegality of transit related to this antiquity.  It also disregards the fact that the museum was happy to purchase a statue of Greek origin without any correspondingly legit paperwork from any country of purported origin. 

To read all of ARCA's posts on the Getty case, follow our link here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

* Tribunale Ordinario di Pesaro, Ufficio del Giudice per le indagini preliminary in funzione di Giudice dell’esecuzione, Ordinanza del 12 può 2009, n.2042/07 R.G.N.R. 3357/07 R.G.I.P. (It.)

Statement (plus commentary) on Press Release from Lisa Lapin, Vice President of Communications, J. Paul Getty Trust, Regarding Decision by Italy’s Court of Cassation on the Legal Ownership of the Victorious Youth

Reprinted in its entirety.  Original PDF can be found on the Getty's website here.

NOTE:  Sections highlighted in blue have commentary from ARCA at the conclusion of the Getty's statement.


DATE: December 3, 2018

Statement from Lisa Lapin, Vice President of Communications, J. Paul Getty Trust, Regarding Decision by Italy’s Court of Cassation
on the Legal Ownership of the Victorious Youth

We will continue to defend our legal right to the statue. The law and facts in this case do not warrant restitution to the Italian government of a statue that has been on public display in Los Angeles for nearly a half century. The statue is of ancient Greek origin, was found in international waters in 1964, and was purchased by the Getty Museum in 1977, years after Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, concluded in 1968 there was no evidence that the statue belonged to Italy. The court has not offered any written explanation of the grounds for its decision, which is inconsistent with its holding 50 years ago that there was no evidence of Italian ownership.

Moreover, the statue is not and has never been part of Italy’s cultural heritage. Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object. Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.

We believe any forfeiture order is contrary to American and international law. Our priority is to continue our productive and long-standing collaborations with our many Italian colleagues and the Cultural Ministry. It is unfortunate that this issue has been a distraction from that important work.

Over more than four decades, the Getty has worked closely with Italian colleagues in conserving, protecting, researching and celebrating Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage. The Getty Foundation has supported 137 grant projects on Italian art totaling more than $20 million, awarded more than $500,000 in fellowships to Italian scholars, and hosted more than 130 Italian scholars, fellows, and interns supported by grants totaling over $1.3 million.

Since 1984, the Getty Museum has lent more than 130 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and other works of art to over 50 different institutions in Italy. Similarly, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) has, since 1991, lent 70 prints, drawings, manuscripts, and rare books to exhibitions in Italy.

The Getty has presented more than two dozen exhibitions in collaboration with institutions in Italy, a number of them arising from cultural agreements between the Getty and the Italian Ministry of Heritage, Culture and Tourism, the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Sicilian Identity, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the Musei Capitolini, Rome, and the Museum of Aidone. As part of these collaborations, the Getty undertook the conservation of five highly significant works of ancient art and a collection of 37 votive offerings, all belonging to Italian museums.

Other collaborative efforts have included decades-long research and conservation projects funded and coordinated by the Getty, including the Panel Paintings Initiative, Mosaikon, Herculaneum fresco restoration, Keeping it Modern, and many others.

We very much value our strong and fruitful relationship with the Italian Ministry of Culture and our museum colleagues in Italy. A more detailed account of the Getty’s funding and other support for Italian cultural heritage is available here:

Getty Communications


The law and facts in this case do not warrant restitution to the Italian government.

Not true.  

Italy's Court of First Instance upheld, in its 46 page ruling, written by Italian Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini, on the grounds of Articles 666, 667, and 676 of the Italian Criminal Code, article 174 section three of the Legislative Decree no. 42 of 2004 and article 301 of Presidential Decree. 15 of 1972, that the order of forfeiture for the statue known as the "Victorious Youth," attributable to the Greek sculptor Lysippus, currently detained by the J.P, Getty Museum was confirmed as previously ordered on February 10, 2010.  

In yesterday's ruling, the Italian Court of Cassation, did not quash the lower court's ruling, therefore, by Italian law, the object does warrant immediate restitution. 

was found in international waters in 1964

This is what the Getty would have its reader's take away from its press statements over the years as the rationale for retaining the sculpture, more on that here.  But the voluminous documentation provided by the Italian government to the Tribunal of Pesero, hinges legally upon the situation in which the ancient bronze was hauled aboard an Italian fishing vessel and what happened after it was brought on shore in Fano.

According to the evidence presented in the Court, the statue became subject to Italian heritage law when the bronze was hauled aboard ship in the nets of Italian fishermen aboard an Italian registered fishing vessel, the Ferruccio Ferri in 1964.  Additionally the crewmen were required, under Italian law, to report their discovery to the appropriate legal authorities and failed to do so.

Furthermore the fishermen brought the statue on shore to the Italian city of Fano where they then intentionally hid it from Italian authorities, first, by burying it in a cabbage patch and later, by hiding it in a priest's bathtub rather than declaring their cultural find, as required, to the Italian customs dogana and then sold what would have been considered state property, illicitly for a small sum divided between the captain and his boatsmen.

Under Legge 1 Giugno 1939, N.1089 - Tutela delle cose d'interesse Artistico o Storico, passed to inhibit the criminal act of illegally removing antiques from Italian territory,  authorities must be notified and the artifacts leaving Italy are subject to export licensure.

The court has not offered any written explanation of the grounds for its decision.  


The Italian court's 46 page written explanation was submitted by the Giudice dell'esecuzione, Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini, and deposited with the Tribunal of Pesaro - Ufficio GIP-GUP on the 8th of June 2018. 

Like other supreme courts of the cassation model around the world, Italy's highest court is not tasked with re-examining the entire body of evidence in the Getty case as discussed in Pesaro, nor is it responsible for adjudicating the case further. Evaluation of the evidence and adjudication was done at the Court of First Instance in Pesero and the Supreme Court's power to quash a judicial decision for defective reasoning is limited (See Art 360, para 1, no 5 of the Italian Code of Civil Procedure).

The Court of Cassation's role is to exercise control over courts of general jurisdiction and to examine whether their judgments infringe upon provisions of national legislation.  In simpler terms Italy's highest court deals exclusively with issues of law, not with the facts and merits of an individual case. That is to say, they do not decide afresh the cases that come before them when parties do not agree with the lower court's decision. 

Additionally the Court of Cassation does not make rulings solely on cases that have passed through the Corte d'Assise d'Apello, Italy's Appellate Court. Cases which meet certain criteria, like this one regarding the Athlete of Fano, can be appealed by the parties directly to Italy's Supreme Court, whose role is then to specifically rule on erores in iudicando and errores in procedendo (errors in procedure or application of the law). 

As the Court of Cassation did not find either of the defects aforementioned errors, it rejected the Getty's appeal and did not quash the decision of the judge in the lower grade.

When a ruling to dismiss an appeal is delivered, the impugned decision becomes irrevocable and as with all Supreme Court decisions, the court's rapporteur will publish the Courts explanatory statement on its decision within the legally allowable time frame. 

The statue is not and has never been part of Italy’s cultural heritage. 

How can either the Getty or Italy ever prove or disprove this statement? 

We do not know anything about the paternity and origins of the bronze aside from the statue's modern "life" which began only after the bronze was fished from the seabed.

But where was it before?  
Did the Romans, after having conquered Greece, steal it to bring home, only to have the ship transporting it sink on its return voyage?
Was the statue at one point made or destined for the Greek colonies in Southern Italy or Sicily?

These are questions we likely will never know the answers to unless the wreck is found which surely still contains the broken feet of the statue.  But this speculation is totally irrelevant in the eyes of the judicial system.

What was relevant in this lengthy series of protracted court proceedings was that the statue became subject to Italian heritage law when it was brought ashore to Italy via an Italian flagged vessel.  It makes no difference (according to Italian law) whether or not the object had been plundered before a population had the benefit of experiencing enjoyment from it, and tfact that it didn't does not diminish the fact that the bronze is considered by the Italians to be part of Italy's cultural heritage under Italy's existing laws. 

To read all of ARCA's posts on the Getty case, follow our link here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

Italy's Court of Cassation rejects the J. Paul Getty Museum's appeal against the lower court ruling on the Getty Bronze

On Monday, Italy’s Cassation Court rejected the J. Paul Getty Museum's appeal against the lower court ruling in Pesaro, issued by Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini.  That earlier ruling, issued on June 08, 2018, was in favour of the prosecution’s request for seizure of the bronze statue, commonly known as the Statue of a Victorious Youth or colloquially as the Getty Bronze, il Lisippo or l'Atleta di Fano.  

Image Credit: ARCA - Palace of Justice, Rome
The Pesaro judge's decision was heavily based upon the failure of the fishermen who found the statue “to report the find to the exportation office to obtain possible authorization for its temporary importation,” and on the object's “illegal exportation and smuggling” after the bronze was brought clandestinely ashore to Italy in 1964 and then later secretly removed in violation of Italian law.

The California museum had sought a judicial review from the Court of Cassation of Gasparini's decision in an attempt to prevent the enforcement of the lower court's judgment for confiscation.  Their application however has been rejected and Italy's highest court has announced "la confisca dell’opera è definitiva" . [English: the confiscation of the work is final].

Now, unless the museum voluntarily relinquishes the statue, the case may need to be taken up with the judicial authorities in the US.  According to the United States National Stolen Property Act, which "allows foreign countries’ cultural patrimony legislation to be effectively enforced within U.S. territory by U.S. courts," to do so would imply another round of documents being shuffled between attorneys representing both sides, albeit in the United States.  

For the Italians to win in the US, the bronze must be considered stolen in the United States.  Additionally Italy's attorneys would need to prove that the statue was discovered within the Italian territories and that Italy's cultural patrimony law unequivocally vests ownership of such antiquities to the State.  They must also show that the country's foreign patrimony law is not so vague as to be in violation of due process.

For now though, we wait for Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation to publish an explanatory statement on its own ruling and for the Italian government to submit a Letters Rogatory Request to the United States seeking their assistance in investigating the circumstances of the statue's exportation and asking the US government to confiscate the bronze so that it can, after more than 50 years, be returned to Italy.

To read all of ARCA's posts on the Getty case, follow our link here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 29, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018 - ,,, No comments

3 Men and a Painting: Savvy accomplices make off with "Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Image Credit:  Screen Capture ARCA 28 November 2018
Entering Vienna's oldest auction house, the Dorotheum, just after sunset, three well-dressed men in jackets and coats, working in tandem are believed to have made off with a landscape painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir titled Golfe, Mer, Falaises Vertes (English: Gulf, Sea, Green Cliffs) just ahead of its Wednesday sale.  

Lot 102 in the "Modern Art" auction, the oil on canvas painting was executed by the French impressionist artist in 1895 and was estimated to be worth between €120,000 and €160,000 at the time of its consignment.  It was also to be listed in the forthcoming Pierre-Auguste Renoir Digital Catalogue Raisonné being prepared under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, one of two rivaling authenticating bodies believed to have the last word when it comes to Renoir.

Image Credit:  Vienna Police
One of the world's oldest auction houses, established in 1707, the Dorotheum has not yet issued a statement on the theft, but law enforcement authorities in Vienna have released CCTV stills of the three people wanted for questioning. 

November 28, 2018

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - ,,,, No comments

Recovered: "Portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti" stolen 32 years ago from Palazzo Chigi

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
The team of the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) in Palermo, under the command of Magg. Luigi Mancuso, has proven once again that patience makes perfect when it comes to the recovery of stolen art.  While the squad has not yet recovered the Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence, the Caravaggio masterpiece stolen in 1969, they have recovered a painting from the 1600s stolen thirty-two years ago.  

The painting, an oil on canvas, is a portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti (1649-1718), wife of marchese Cesare Baldinotti, and was taken from Palazzo Chigi, a historic building in the historic center of Ariccia, in the province of Rome. The artwork was identified during a series of investigations as well as a crosscheck of records within the Carabinieri Leonardo Stolen Art database and was found to be part of the inventory of an antiques dealer in Palermo. 

Questioned by law enforcement, the antiquarian gave an implausible answer as to how and where he had acquired the works and when pressed for proof of ownership was unable to substantiate legitimate his ownership or how how he came to be in possession of the oil painting.  

During their investigations the Carabinieri squad in Sicily also identified a second individual, from Marsala, who along with the antiquarian has been referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Palermo for receiving stolen goods.

While the press release from the Carabinieri have not listed the name of the artist who painted the portrait the oil painting appears strikingly similar to another portrait of the Marchioness Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet, a Flemish portrait painter from the Baroque period who is known for his portraits. He had an international career, which brought him to Italy and France where he made portraits for an elite.

Image Credit:
Screen Capture Sotheby's website
29 Nov 2018
After training in Paris, he spent much time in Rome, then Florence and Turin, before returning, first to Antwerp in 1684 and later in 1686, to Paris as a painter of the French court. The Marchioness was the daughter of Felice Angelo Ghezzi, the Duke of Carpignano and Baron Zullino. On April 17, 1667, she married the Marquis Cesare Baldinotti di Pistoia (1636-1728) who was the Duke of Pescorocchiano.

That version, which once belonged to architect, interior decorator and garden designer Giles Newby Vincent, was purchased by the architect in Paris in 2006 for €26,400, who then put the artwork up for auction in London at Bonham's in 2014 for between £20,000 and £30,000 but the painting went unsold. In 2016, it sold at auction in Paris at Sotheby's for €20,000.

Image Credit: Screen Capture Bonham's website 28 Nov 2018
As a painter Voet was highly sought after and had numerous followers and imitators, many who copied his style of portraiture of well bred ladies, those that made up the so-called galleria delle belle or cabinets des dames, which was  leitmotiv in the furnishing of noble residences during the seventeenth century when the artist was still alive.

November 20, 2018

How long does it take to achieve restitution of a looted antiquity? In some cases 25 years or more.

29 February 1992          292.AA.10                  Statue of Zeus Enthroned

On October 27, 2018 a first century BCE, marble statue of Zeus, seated on his throne, finally moved to its permanent home, the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegrean Fields in the Castello Aragonese di Baia.  

Like its own lost version of Atlantis, the Campi Flegrei, as the area is known to Italians, is a large, highly active volcanic region, nestled in the northern portion of the Gulf of Naples.  Declared a regional park in 2003, and lying mostly underwater, the archaeological site of Baia, named aptly for its thermal waters, guards treasures from Rome's ancient past, some of which have been transferred to the Archaeological Museum for land lovers to see and appreciate.

A site of profound and priceless beauty, the submerged archaeological park preserves an astounding collection of Roman statues, frozen in liquid time. along with ancient villas, public baths, private grottos and even entire city streets. All of which serve as testimony to the charm of the now submerged city where many of Rome's elite and influential patricians once spent their time relaxing. 

But back to the statue of Zeus and its purchase

Guided by its then antiquities curator, Dr. Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles purchased the 75-cm-high "Zeus Enthroned" from Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman in 1992.  The Fleischman's in turn had purchased the statue of the Greek god five years earlier in 1987 from British antiquities dealer Robin Symes

Prominent philanthropists of the Metropolitan and other noteworthy American museums, True met the Fleischmans in the late eighties.  At the time, the couple were actively being courted by museums who hoped to purchase all or parts of their substantial personal collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.  As wealthy collectors, they couple had purchased antiquities from both Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici, art dealers readers of this blog should be familiar with.

But the Fleischman's relationship with True mixed business with pleasure and the Getty curator was known to have visited the couple in their East Side New York duplex, which was filled with classical art purchased through these now-disgraced antiquities dealers.  By 1996, True's relationship with the philanthropists was such that Lawrence Fleischman provided a loan towards True's vacation home on the Greek island of Paros.  Conveniently, the loan was arranged days after the Fleischmans finalized their acquisition agreement with the Getty Museum.  In total the museum purchased more than three hundred objects from the couple's collection.  Valued at sixty million dollars, the Getty paid the Fleischmans twenty million and the philanthropists made a tax-deductible donation worth another 40 million, to conclude the deal.

In 2005, Italian Public Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri brought formal criminal charges against True. The gist of the Italian claims were that the curator  “conspired with Hecht and Medici to supply the Getty with artifacts that had been illegally unearthed and exported from Italy, and that she used the Fleischmans’ collection to ‘launder’ antiquities, giving them a clean bill of provenience before bringing them to the museum”. As the Italian court case got into full swing, True resigned over the Paros home loan and shortly after, in 2006, Barbara Fleischman resigned as a trustee of the Getty Trust.

Over the years numerous Fleischman antiquities, tied to illlicit trafficking have been returned to Italy and coupled with the fact that the enthroned Zeus statue had no documentation of licit export, it became the work of the Italian authorities to prove where the object had come from and to tie the object's origins to Italian territory in order to make a viable claim for its restitution. 

According to a recently published book by Stefano Alessandrini, "Italian cultural diplomacy for the return of assets in exile," the statue's return to Italy in the summer of 2017 was thanks to a combined effort; the joint work of historic researchers, illicit trafficking investigators, judicial magistrates and cultural diplomacy advisors with Italy's cultural ministry.  

Alessandrini states that the request for restitution of a cultural property illicitly removed from the patrimony of a State doesn't constitute a hostile act towards the State to which the work is requested. In fact, Italy seeks to enforce not just the law concerning property, but the right of culture, regulated by numerous international conventions.

Zeus and his relationship with the Phlegrean Fields

Image Credit:
The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal
Volume 21, 1993
Italian researchers believed that the marble Zeus was once part of a collection of cult statues, likely displayed in a lararium, a sacred space designed to hold the images of guardian deities, believed in ancient times, to be the protectors of a villa and the family residing in it. 

From its overall condition, scholars were able to deduce that the object had likely spent a large portion of its lifetime, partially submerged on the seabed, laying on its side, as only half of the object seemed to have been marred by marine encrustations.

But to prove to the J. Paul Getty Museum that their Zeus came from Baia took a bit of random luck.

In December 2012 Italy's Guardia di Finanza stumbled upon a mable fragment from a clandestine excavation during an investigation in Bacoli (Naples).  In examining the piece, hoping to determine its original context, the Italians began to consider whether or not the piece of marble might have once been attached to the corner of the arm of the throne upon which Zeus was resting his laurels. Using open source photos, from the Getty Museum's own website, researchers were able to superimpose their looter fragment onto the edge of the photographed chair.

The result proved to be a compatible match. 

To solidify their visual hypothesis, scientific verification tests were performed in California on 6 March 2014 which determined that the marine encrustations present on the Italian fragment matched those also adhering to the Getty's statue in California. 

Image Credit:
ARCA Screenshot 
Getty Website
accessed 20 November 2018. 
From that point, it took another three years of cultural diplomacy before an agreement for restitution could be solidified between the Italian state and the US museum.  On June 13, 2017 Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying:

"The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had...It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there."

As a result of museum to State negotiations, the J. Paul Getty Museum formally turned over the Zeus statue to the Italian Consul General for Los Angeles, Antonio Verde, on 14 June 2017 in a restitution ceremony at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

25 years and sometimes longer

Not long ago, the world's museum directors spent their days and careers primarily focused on the custodianship of their institution's art objects.  But to truly attone for the sins of the father, todays directors need to become more proactive global citizens and accept their global (and ethical) responsibilities for the errors of their predecessors.  

While museum and museum associations are becoming more aware of the importance of object provenance, to step up to the plate, their management must become more politically engaged, globally connected and skilled in the arts of arbitration and mediation as it applies to suspect objects like this one. Equally importantly, they must also stop the foot dragging when it comes to acknowledging and correcting the errors of past acquisition judgement, as an entrenched means of delaying the inevitable.

Image Credit: ANSA
Given the known problems with the numerous objects in the Getty collection which were accessioned through the Fleischman acquisition, the tug and pull for ownership of the Zeus statue, eventually settled through mutual (and lengthy) negotiation, should not have taken years to hammer out.

But if you want to see Zeus the next time you are in the Bay of Naples area, to celebrate this one success, he'll be waiting for you, on display at the castle, as part of the exhibition "The visible, the invisible and the sea".   His trip home was a long and complicated one, but at least he is not hurling lightening bolts for how long it took.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 18, 2018

Recovered? Anonymous tip may have lead to Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin" stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam in 2012.

On October 16, 2012 Dutch police confirmed that seven paintings had been stolen, shortly after 3 a.m. local time, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.  The paintings which were taken, Pablo Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin, Henri Matisse's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune and Waterloo Bridge, London,  Claude Monet's Charing Cross, London, Paul Gauguin's Femme Devant une Fenêtre Ouverte, dite La Fiancée, Jacob Meyer de Haan's Autoportrait, and Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed were estimated to be worth millions.  

The stolen art works were part of the museum's Avant Guard Exhibition, which highlighted material on loan from the private Triton Foundation collection. Built over twenty years, by Rotterdam oil and shipping magnate Willem Cordia and his wife Marijke van der Laan, the exhibition, was set to run from 7 October 2012 until 20 January 2013, and was the first time any artwork from the Triton Collection had been exhibited publicly. 

The Triton body of artworks is made up of approximately 250 paintings, drawings and pieces of sculpture belonging to art movements from 1870 through 1970.  The collection includes works by many by the most influential 19th and 20th century artists in the tradition of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Analytical Cubism.  At the time of the theft, the collection was reputed to be one of the 200 most important private collections in the world.  

Shortly after the theft, and as the law enforcement investigation progressed, formal charges were brought against a group of suspects of Romanian origin.   Charges against Radu Dogaru, the ringleader who was found to have orchestrated the heist, his mother, Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop were all eventually brought.  Around the globe, their trials were closely watched in the hopes that the defendants might shed some light during their testimony on whether or not the seven paintings and drawings remained safe.  Early in the investigation Mr. Dogaru’s mother claimed to have torched the artworks, in order to dispose of the evidence which could be used against her son.

Despite recanting her statement later, experts from Romania's Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României (National History Museum of Romania - MNIR) provided testimony that seemingly validated Olga Dogaru's grim confession.  Ash and remains analyzed from a stove in her home in the village of Carcaliu in eastern Romania included nails from frames used before the end of the 19th century.  Yet, as pointed out by Maria Vasii, one of the attorney's for the defendants, the only painting with canvas tacks was the one by Lucian Freud.  As that artwork was completed in the year 2000, the nails would not have been made of copper and could not possibly have come from a 19th or 20th century production. Vasii also pointed out that the other paintings which were stolen were canvas glued onto cardboard and had no nails whatsoever. 

Despite the questions remaining as to what had actually become of the stolen artworks, Radu Dogaru and Eugen Darie, pled guilty for their roles in the theft on October 22, 2013. As a result of their confessions, the Third District Court of Romania sentenced Dogaru to 6 years and Eugen Darie to 5 years and 4 months (following sentencing appeals) for their involvement in the crime and for membership in a criminal organisation. 

Alexandru Mihai Bitu also received a sentence - two years for handling stolen goods. Adrian Procop, arrested in Manchester, England and extradited to Bucharest, was sentenced to prison for four years and 10 months for the formation of an organized criminal group and to four years and eight months for theft. Some of his prison time was reduced as the punishments were slated to run concurrently.  

Petre Condrat, involved in trying to find a buyer for the Matisse and the Gauguin, was fined 45,000 Romanian lei, the equivalent of approximately €9642. Dogaru's mother, Olga, was sentenced to two years in prison, convicted of aiding criminal behavior.

Interestingly, during Radu Dogaru's trial he gave a deposition that contradicted his mother's earlier confession to burning the paintings and told the court that his mother made false statements about incinerating the art works under pressure by interrogators. It was believed at the time that Radu may have been motivated by the hope that, along with her recanted testimony, his testimony might help his mother avoid a prison sentence.  

Now, six years later, an anonymous letter has been received by a Dutch writer of Romanian origin, Mira Feticu, the contents of which reportedly stated where one of the seven stolen works of art might be found.

But has the stolen Picasso really been spared the fiery furnace? 

Painted the year before the artist's death, Picasso's Head of a Harlequin (1971) is an art work done in pen and brush in black ink, colored pencil and pastel on thick brown wove paper.  It measures 38 x 29 cm and is "signed and dated in the lower right corner "Picasso/12.1./71". It was purchased by the Triton Foundation in 2009.

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
Mira Feticu has told reporters that the letter was sent to her at her Hague address because she wrote a book in 2015 about the Kunsthal theft which was also translated into Romanian.  Following the indications spelled out in a few short sentences of Romanian, Feticu and Frank Westerman have stated that they used the letter to guide them to Tulcea County, Romania.  There, they report they were able to identify the spot underneath a tree where the writer of the letter had indicated the missing Picasso could be found. 

Clearing away snow and leaves, the pair told law enforcement that they found the fragile artwork wrapped in plastic.   Photographing it in the car, they then turned the artwork over to the Dutch Embassy in Bucharest. Westerman has since posted video footage of law enforcement authorities examining the work of art on his Facebook page. 

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
For now, a team of DIICOT prosecutors and police officers of the Criminal Investigation Directorate - IGPR will conduct a follow up investigation.  To determine if the drawing is authentic, or part of an elaborate hoax, it has been sent to the National Museum of Art of Romania located in the Royal Palace Bucharest.  There art historians will work to assist in determining or negating the artwork's authenticity.  

Insured against losses, in September 2013 the Triton Foundation received a $24 million payout for the theft of their seven artworks from their insurance underwriter, Lloyd's of London.  In doing so, the foundation has relinquished the titles to each of the seven stolen works of art, should any of them ever be recovered.  This means, if this "Picasso" is authenticated, (and that's a pretty big if), the insurance firm would be the rightful owner.

Me, I have my doubts.  

Straightening the image presented by Feticu taken in the car, and then comparing it side by side with the original stolen artwork I see numerous points of difference in addition to many color variations. A few of these I have redlined.  I am not an authenticator, nor am I an expert on Picasso's work, or the degradation of paper drawings over time, but to me, it doesn't seem to be the original, as much as it would make me happy if it were.


Theater makers Yves Degryse and Bart Baele have admitted that the found "Picasso" in Romania is a hoax, part of a publicity stunt for their performance True Copy, which premiered last week. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 30, 2018

Recoverable or Not? The sale of the Assyrian gypsum relief of a winged Genius, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, circa 883-859 BCE

In March 2015, the Iraqi government formally announced that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL had purposefully destroyed much of the Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II as part of their iconoclastic program of obliterating preislamic cultural heritage monuments in their original archaeological contexts.  But despite the worldwide outrage at the time of this tragedy, most of the general public had already forgotten about the losses faced by the Iraqi people by the time the Virginia Theological Seminary publicly announced, on April 13, 2018, that it would be selling one of their own objects from Nimrud.  On that date, the trustees announced that for various reasons, they had decided to sell their own seven-foot carved gypsum alabaster panel from the now-destroyed palace, a relief known as "The Bearded Winged Apukalu." It's auction is set to occur at Christie’s Antiquities Sale in New York on the 31st of October.

Image Credit:  ARCA 
Until very recently, the press hardly noticed the upcoming sale.  This despite the fact that art historian Kiersten Neumann drew attention to the upcoming event via Twitter on May 22, 2018.   The auction of this rare piece of history was also of much talk by Assyriologists and museum professionals around the world.
From ARCA's calculations there are at least 76 known public collections and 6 private collections which contain material culture from the Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II.  

The last Assyrian relief to appear on the legitimate ancient art market sold to Noriyoshi Horiuchi after a bidding war between the Japanese antiquities dealer and an Italian phone bidder in 1994.  At that time, the relief sold for an eye-popping 7.7 million British pounds, a price 10 times what the auctioneers at Christie's had estimated. 

The Horiuchi-purchased bas-relief, like the one at the VTS, was excavated in the mid-19th century in what is now Iraq by British archeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard.  It was then given over to Sir John Guest, then owner of Canford Manor, who helped to pay for bringing the finds from Nimrud back to Britain.  That piece of the palace is now on display at the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan.

The public however only seems to have taken notice in the VTS relief months after the Seminary made its announcement and only after the high dollar estimate the object is likely to bring started arousing interest in the major news outlets.

Like with the relief purchased by Horiuchi, the VTS relief was also excavated sometime around 1845 by Sir Austen Henry Layard.   Layard in turn is reported to have sold the object to Dr. Henri Byron Haskell, a medical missionary who worked in the 1850's in Mosul.  Haskell was interested in objects from the palace as proof of biblical history, for Nimrud is known as the ancient site of Calah and is mentioned in Genesis 10:11.  Haskell in turn, passed them on to his friend Joseph Packard, then professor and later Dean at Virginia Theological Seminary and the relief was shipped to the United States where it has been housed at the Virginia Theological Seminary since 1860.

Screen Capture: Facebook
Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage 
Despite being part of the VTS collection for more than 150 years, a recent call for help and appeal from the State Board for Antiquities and Heritage has been made by Dr. Qais Hussein Rashid, Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities and President of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage asking for law enforcement intervention asking for help in stopping the sale.  Unfortunately, the evidence is quite strong that the relief was legally excavated and exported in the nineteenth century, which makes preventing the sale highly unlikely.

The three Assyrian reliefs are purported to have reached America in 1859 where their transfer to the Virginia Theological Seminary appears to have been well established.  Packard, citing Rev. J. S. Lindsay, writes that the three slabs, were so valuable that the Smithsonian Institution, on failing to purchase them, had plaster casts made of them (Packard, citing Rev. J.S. Lindsay, 1902, 305).  The relief is also documented in other academic articles including the 1976 article by Ross, J.F. "The Assyrian reliefs at Virginia Seminary", part of the Virginia Seminary Journal 28(1) pages 4-10.

The strength of the Iraqi's claim for the restitution of its heritage in this instance would likely hinge on the applicability of New York penal law, i.e. that a thief can never acquire good title.  To do so, the courts would have to prove that the Virginia Theological Seminary, was is possession of stolen property.  If that were to be the case, the New York District Attorney's office could then seize the property as evidence and then move to release the stolen property under PL §450.10(2)'s mandate that "unless extended by a court shall be released...after satisfactory proof of such person's entitlement of the possession thereof." But this might be difficult, if not impossible for the Iraqi authorities to substantiate.

Despite the somewhat contentious nature of Layard’s early explorations at Nimrud, which were at first clandestine, the intervention of the British government, to gain official support for the archaeologist's excavations from the Ottoman Turkish authorities is well documented.

On 5 May 1846, the Grand Vizier of the Turkish Empire sent a letter to the Pasha of Mosul, based upon the intercession of Stratford Canning, the Viscount Stratford, who partially funded Lanyard’s explorations.  A diplomat who represented Great Britain at the Ottoman court for almost 20 years, Canning spent most of his career as ambassador in Constantinople and was influential in exerting a strong influence on Turkish policy in support of the sultan’s resistance to Russia’s attempts to increase its influence over Ottoman affairs which eventually would lead to the outbreak of the Crimean War.  Through Canning's assistance,  the Brits were able to obtain permission for Layard's excavation.

The vizier's letter reads as follows: 

There are, as your Excellency knows, in the vicinity of Mosul quantities of stones and ancient remains. An English gentleman has come to these parts to look for such stones, and has found on the banks of the Tigris, in certain uninhabited places, ancient stones on which there are pictures and inscriptions. The British Ambassador has asked that no obstacles shall be put in the way of the above-mentioned gentleman taking the stones which may be useful to him, including those which he may discover by excavations … nor of his embarking them for transport to England.

The sincere friendship which firmly exists between the two governments makes it desirable that such demands be accepted. Therefore no obstacle should be put in the way of his taking the stones which … are present in desert places, and are not being utilised, or of his undertaking excavations in uninhabited places where this can be done without inconvenience to anyone; or of his taking such stones as he may wish amongst those which he has been able to discover.

--H.W.F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, Sidgwick and Jackson , 1984, page 305.

In order to succeed in stopping the sale in New York, Iraq as a claimant would have to first prove that they have standing to bring such a cultural claim in a US court.  If the VTS has documentation proving that Layard passed their relief on to Dr. Henri Byron Haskell with the permission of the authorities in power at that time, as the provenance in the auction seems to indicate, the seminary would likely be in the clear to move forward with tomorrow's auction. 

Unfortunately this means that unless Iraq has the liquidity to buy back its own cultural patrimony, or is able to find a generous benefactor willing to purchase the ancient relief on their behalf, this reminder of the lost Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II will unfortunately go to the highest bidder.

Update: 31 October 2018
The Assyrian gypsum relief of a winged Genius, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, sold for a USD $27,250,000 hammer price which equates to $35,903,875 including the buyer’s premium to an in-the-room buyer at Christie's New York: Paddle 811.

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 29, 2018

Recovered: 26 years after its theft "San Carlo Borromeo in Contemplation"

Image Credit:

In a ceremony held at the San Pietro Apostolo in Cavenago d'Adda, Italy, parishioners celebrate the return of the 17th century painting "San Carlo Borromeo in Contemplation" by early Baroque artist Daniele Crespi.   Stolen twenty-six years ago, on February 5, 1992,  together with two other portraits, one of San Francesco d'Assisi and another of Sant'Anna, one of the three paintings has been recovered by officers from the Venice division of Italy's Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, under the supervision of Major Christian Costantini, commander. 

Focusing on thefts of works of art related to places of worship, the painting was found in September the possession of an individual living in Borso del Grappa (Treviso) accused of receiving stolen goods. 

This is not the first artwork by Daniele Crespi to have been stolen and recovered by the Carabinieri.

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
The painting "Il Christo, Salvator Mundi" was stolen in between the 16th and the 17th of January 1989 from the private residence of an art collector in Castiglione Olona.  Recognised by the Carabinieri TPC in November 2011, the squad identified the stolen artwork from auction records at Sotheby's dating to 2004 in London.  After confirming with the painting's heirs that the artwork matched their stolen object and without valid export documentation.