November 18, 2019

Carabinieri, EUROPOL , EUROJUST investigation, code named: "Achea"

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TP
NOTE: This article has been updated after the conclusion of the press conference. 

Today at 10:30, the Carabinieri Provincial Command of Crotone, a port city in Calabria, southern Italy, and the region's Public Prosecutor held a press conference to announce the results of a multicountry operation into the illicit trafficking of antiquities which feeds the clandestine market for ancient art.  This after having carried out an order for the application of precautionary measures, issued by the Judge of the Crotone Court, at the request of the local Public Prosecutor who coordinated the investigations.

Begun in 2017 and carried out in coordination with EUROPOL and EUROJUST, the investigation, named "Achea" after the first Hellenic population, involved 350 officers from Italy, France, Germany, Serbia, and the United Kingdom working together to reconstruct an entire criminal chain of actors responsible for the illegal exportation of archaeological material from the areas around Crotone to market countries in Europe.

Image Credit:  Europol
Inside Italy, searches were carried out by the Carabinieri Provincial Commands of Bari, Benevento, Bolzano, Caserta, Catania, Catanzaro, Cosenza, Crotone, Ferrara, Frosinone, Latina, Matera, Milan, Perugia, Potenza, Ravenna, Reggio Calabria, Rome, Siena, Terni, Viterbo as well as with the support of the 8th Carabinieri Core of Vibo Valentia and the helicopter squadron "Cacciatori di Calabria".  Outside Italy's borders, additional searches were conducted by the French Central Police Office for the fight against the international traffic of Cultural Heritage (OCBC -  (Office central de lutte contre le trafic de biens culturels) in France, the German Bavarian LKA (Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt) in Germany, the Serbian Criminal Investigations Directorate in Serbia and the Metropolitan Police (New Scotland Yard) of London in the UK.  According to a EUROPOL statement the Europol Analysis Project FURTUM supported the investigation by coordinating information exchanges, holding operational meetings, preparing the action day and providing analytical support in Italy.

Image Credit:  Europol
The network of criminal actors included a structured group of tombaroli, fences and intermediaries involved in moving illicit antiquities from archaeological sites in and around Crotone, where one of the most important and best known sanctuaries of Magna Graecia is located.  Source locations preyed upon by the squad include the public archaeological sites of Apollo Aleo at Cirò Marina, Capo Colonna, Castiglione di Paludi in the Municipality of Paludi, as well as unmapped areas near Cosentino and Cerasello.  The looters also dug on private lands in the province of Crotone and Cosenza.

During the press conference, it was stated that the criminal group associated with this action appeared to be well organized and had an entrepreneurial approach to structuring their criminal association. As the result of surveillance and wiretaps law enforcement officers were able to determine the top management of the organization, who directed and controlled the activity of the lower members of the association.  They also determined who planned the individual shipments, identified the places of interest for plunder, and worked to prevent, or at least minimize the risk of detection by the police.

Image Credit:  Europol
In Italy searches were conducted against a total of 80 individuals.  In italy, two were taken into custody and 23 have others been reportedly placed under house arrest upon the request of the public prosecutor.  The coinvolved overseas have not been named. 


Held in Custody
Giorgio Salvatore Pucci, from Cirò Marina who was already named in a previous investigation. 
Alessandro Giovinazzi, from Scandale

Released under house arrest
Alfiero Angelucci, from Trevi
Antonio Camardo, from Pisticci,
Giuseppe Caputo,from Dugenta
Sebastiano Castagnino, from Petilia Policastro
Enrico Cocchi, from Castano Primo
Francesco Comito, from Rocca di Neto 
Simone Esposito, from Rocca di Neto
Giuseppe Gallo, from Strongoli
Raffaele Gualtieri, from Isola Capo Rizzuto 
Domenico Guareri, from Isola Capo Rizzuto
Vittorio Kuckiewicz, from Fermo
Franco Lanzi, a numismatic expert from Norcia
Leonardo Lecce from Crotone,
Raffaele Malena, from Cirò Marina, (also named in previous antiquities investigation)
Marco Godano Otranto, from Crotone,
Renato Peroni, from Magnago
Santo Perri, from Sersale
Vincenzo Petrocca, from Isola Capo Rizzuto,
Aldo Picozzi, from Castano Primo
Domenico Riolo, from Scandale
Dino Sprovieri from Cirò Marina

4 others unnamed individuals have been arrested are domiciled abroad

Initial reports state that some of the individuals involved in the criminal conspiracy communicated with one another using a codified language and in some cases accessed archaeological finds using a backhoe, drones, and sophisticated metal detectors from Minelab, despite the fact that the use of metal detectors is completely prohibited in Calabria.


Some of the artifacts recovered include terracotta vases and oil lamps, terracotta plates, fibulas and pieces of ancient jewelry, some dating to the IV and III century BCE.

Italy's Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini gave a statement regarding the investigation saying "Thanks to sophisticated investigative techniques and the collaboration of Europol and the competent foreign police forces, in Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Serbia, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage has completed with a vast operation to counter the illicit trafficking of archaeological finds from Calabria to Northern Italy and abroad has been successful, recovering thousands of goods and seizing materials used for clandestine excavations, an operation that once again demonstrates the excellence of the Carabinieri Command which has been operating since 1969 in defense of the Italian cultural heritage."


Unfortunately this is not the first time Crotone has been the focal point of such a blitz.  From 2014 until January 2017 an investigation coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Crotone through Procurator dott. Giuseppe Capoccia and the Deputy Dr. Luisiana Di Vittorio, and conducted by the Police of the Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Cosenza followed up on a number of clandestine excavations conducted in archaeological sites in the areas surrounding Crotone area. While that investigation also served to identify many of the actors of a diffuse and well-structured criminal association it seems that one group dismantled simply made room for another.


November 17, 2019

Recovered: Ring once owned by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde


Note:  This article has been revised to include an interview with Arthur Brand at the closure of this article: 

Engraved with Greek lettering, a gold ring donated by the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde has been recovered. The author 
Albumen Photo of Oscar Wilde, 1882
by Napoleon Sarony
National Portrait Gallery NPG P24
of scintillating essays and The Picture of Dorian Gray donated the ring to his second alma mater, the University of Oxford, in 1876.  A place where, looking back on his life Wilde reflected pivotally in a letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas that "the two great turning points in my life were when my father sent me to Oxford and when Society sent me to prison." ('De Profundis' — O. W.).  It was the young lord's father who brought about Wilde's spectacular fall from grace.

Wilde read Classics as an undergraduate at Oxford from 1874 to 1878. His ring was once displayed in a butterfly case alongside the  "Magdalen" papyrus, three pieces of a manuscript donated by Reverend Charles B. Huleatt.  The ring disappeared from Magdalen College on May 2, 2002 in the early morning hours when Eamonn Andrews A.K.A. Anderson, a former Magdalen cleaner and handyman broke into the college, stole whiskey from the college bar and then impulsively made off with the 18-carat gold friendship ring and two rowing medals: the 1910 Henley Royal Regatta Grand Challenge Cup medal and a 1932 silver and bronze medal presented to RFG Sarell in 1932. 

The "Old Library" of Magdalen College in Oxford.
When forensic evidence quickly linked the thief to the crime, Andrews confessed, telling police during his interrogation that he had sold the ring and medals to a London scrap metal dealer for just £150.  Andrews was subsequently sentenced to two years incarceration for this offense, yet despite a modest reward, the 18-carat gold literary artifact seemed lost, and would remain missing for 17 years. 

But Wilde's famous ring was too important and too valuable to be melted down, something the fence Andrews delivered the ring to evidently knew.  Collaborating with London based Hungarian-born antiquities dealer William Thomas Veres, a dealer with a less than pristine background written about often on this blog, Arthur Brand, a Dutch private investigator worked credible leads which led to the eventual recovery of the author's ring. 

Brand's informant (or informants) led him to explore details of the famous April 2015 London heist at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company.  That multi-million pound heist took place over the four-day Easter and Passover holidays and was carried out by a gang of mostly elderly robbers, in what some believe was to be their swan song burglary before retiring for good. 

During this heist some of the culprits dressed as gas repair men as they drilled away for hours before eventually boring their way through a 50 centimeter wall to gain access the storage facility, while bypassing the main door.  Once through the wall, the team of burglars ransacked a total of 73 safety boxes containing gold jewellery, precious and semi precious stones, documents and cash. 

Destroyed safety deposit boxes at
Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company after the 2015 burglary
Following up on leads London's Metropolitan Police would eventually arrest ten suspects.  Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company never recovered and went into liquidation. Ultimately eight career criminals involved in the dramatic heist would be sentenced for their involvement.  

John "Kenny" Collins pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

Hugh Doyle was found guilty of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, suspended for two years. 

Daniel Jones pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

William Lincoln was found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property and was sentenced to a seven-year prison term. 

Terry Perkins pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and  initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and to pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail but died one week after the ruling.  

Brian Reader was sentenced to a six years and three months prison term and to pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

Michael Seed was found guilty of burglary and conspiracy to burgle and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. 

Carl Wood was found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property and was sentenced to a six-year prison term. 

Jon Harbinson was found not guilty and discharged.  

Paul Reader was never charged.

Of the £14 million in loot taken during the Hatton Garden burglary only a fraction of the stolen property, approximately £4,3 million, was ever recovered. Yet whispers from not so literary criminal informants with knowledge of the London heist's haul spoke of one of the items grabbed in the burglary:  

...a Victorian gold ring inscribed with what they thought was Russian text.   

For now details about Brand's recovery are limited due to the nature of the investigation, though this is not the first time that the name of the London art merchant William Veres has been connected to the Dutch investigator's recoveries, as Mr. Brand openly admits when interviewed. 

In November 2018 Veres was connected to Brand in the recovery of a 6th century byzantine mosaic of Saint Mark which once decorated the apse of the church of Panaya Kanakaria in Lythrangomi, Northern Cyprus. Veres' name also came up a second time in January 2019, connected to Brand's recovery of two 7th century limestone reliefs which originally adorned the church of Santa Maria de Lara.  

When asked about the London dealer's motives for helping, Mr Brand stated first and foremost, that Mr. Veres is never paid for the assistance he gives on these cases.  Secondly he stated that though he [Veres] has had encounters with the law in the past, Brand believes that these assists might help the dealer in cleaning up his reputation.  Lastly, Brand stated that you cannot recover stolen art with the help of the Salvation Army, and underscored "all my investigations, including this one, are conducted with the local police authorities full knowledge and are completely legal in the eyes of the law."

When asked about George Crump, who Brand states facilitated in this investigation, the private investigator stated that Crump is "an honest man who knows the London criminal world thanks to his late uncle, a former owner of a casino."  Brant also indicated that Crump's uncle died decades ago but that the nephew still knows his late Uncle's old friends and was therefore "the best person to discreetly inquire as to where the ring might be located, and indeed he succeeded."

The story of this recovery has been filmed by a Dutch film crew and will be aired as part of a documentary in the Summer of 2020.  For now Oscar Wilde's ring is is set to go on display, Wednesday December 4th during a ceremony at the University of Oxford. 

Culprits Identified in the theft at the Museo Civico Archeologico in Castiglion Fiorentino


Proving that museum theft is a bad idea, the Carabinieri and the local municipal police force have identified two culprits, aged 20 and 23 responsible for breaking in the Museo Civico Archeologico in Castiglion Fiorentino with a crow bar during the early morning hours of November 9th.  

Analyzing CCTV surveillance footage, which captured the culprits lighting their way to the stash using their cell phones, as well as images in the city's historic center, investigators were able to hone in on two individuals responsible for the burglary in just four days.  After that, they questioned the suspects about their whereabouts at the time of the theft.

After contradicting one another, and eventually breaking under the stress, the 23 year old, listed only by his initials as "SM" quickly confessed, soon after followed by his accomplice.   Later, the pair led the authorities to the spot in Valle di Chio, a valley in the municipality of Castiglion Fiorentino, where the 61 mostly bronze and silver objects had been buried at the foot of a tree, along the banks of a stream for later retrieval. 

As is sometimes the predictable case in thefts of this nature, one of the two accomplices had once worked at the museum. A second irrefutable bit of evidence, the GPS location data from the cell phones they carried at the time of the theft.  With this law enforcement can conclusively pinpoint their locations at the time the alarm system sounded.  

In the famous words of Forrest Gump:  "Stupid is as stupid does."


By:  Vittoria Ricci

November 15, 2019

Revisiting the case of the marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
This week journalist John Russell, of Courthouse News Service, reported that the attorney representing Safani Gallery Inc., in New York has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block the application for turnover request for a marble antiquity seized by the Manhattan District Attorney.  In their complaint Safani Gallery Inc., wholly owned by Alan Safani, is seeking a trial by jury for the return of an Augustan Age marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God, or damages for the losses it believes it has incurred, from the Italian Republic.  On page 15 of that complaint, Safani through their council asks for a ruling by jury for either the return of the marble sculpture or the full fair-market value of the Head of Alexander, plus legal expenses and interest.

In its complaint Safani Gallery also represents that it was given express representations and warranties of the authenticity, ownership, export licensing, and other attributes of the provenance for the marble head from Foundation, Classical Galleries. Ltd., which sold the New York gallery the antiquity. The complaint also states that by seizing the sculpture, Italy seeks to receive a benefit, including the expropriation of the gallery's property for Italy's own use and gain, to which the country has no claim, interest, or right.

To provide background on this case, Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel in the Office of New York County District, through Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., submitted an Application for Turnover on 23 July 2018 in support of an order pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law §450.10 (Consol. 2017) and N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law §690.55 (Consol. 2017) requesting the transfer of this antiquity, seized pursuant to a previously executed search warrant, from the custody of the court, to the custody of Italy.

Under order of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, the marble head of Alexander the Great had been seized at Safani Gallery  on 22 February 2018.  As a result of that seizure, the object was taken into evidence as part of a state investigation seeking to demonstrate the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree.  That seizure was carried out based on evidence provided by the Italian authorities that the object had been stolen and illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909).

Looking across the remains of the Basilica Aemilia
towards the Severan Arch,
the Tabularium, and the Modern Senate House
Image Credit: B. Dolan
In terms of its history, the NY District Attorney court documents set out that the head was discovered during excavations of the Basilica Aemilia, located on the Via Sacra.  This is the ancient road between the Capitoline Hill and Rome's Colosseum, located within the Roman Forum. While little remains of the Basilica Aemilia today, its presence in the form is documented by Rome historian Pliny the Elder as being one of the three most beautiful elements on the site alongside the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace.


The contested marble head was discovered at some point during Italian research excavations carried out by Professor Giacomo Boni and later by Professor Alfonso Bartoli, who conducted archaeological surveys of the Palatine Hill in Rome between 1899 and 1939.  Written documentation from these explorations suggest that the head was once part of the “Statues of Parthian Barbarians” which are believed to have adorned the Basilica Aemilia.  As such, these objects represent a valuable testimony to the art and architecture decorating buildings in the Forum during the Augustan Age.

After 20 BCE Roman art often portrayed the people of the Empire and during its restoration in 14 BCE, Augustus chose to line the Basilica with a series of Parthian figurines, perhaps to humiliate the ancient foreign enemy of Rome.  Representing individuals from the Parthian Empire (also known as the Arsacid Empire), these human likenesses depicted the conquered Parthians as representatives of the Orbis Alter, subjects of Rome not considered to be part of the “civilised” world.  Stylistically, they differ from representations we have from the same time period of people from the Orbis Romanus which makes this statue grouping particularly identifiable.

Correlating statue from the Basilica Aemilia
According to New York court documents, the Italian Soprintendenza alle Antichità Palatino e Foro Romano began keeping archival ambrotype photographic documentation of the objects it discovered during these excavations beginning in 1908.  This method of documentation most likely came about as a result of the country having instituted regional "Superintendencies" in 1907 on the basis of law no 386 dated 27 June 1907.   Prior to that, Italy lacked a strong national framework to encompass cultural heritage laws and regulations, and the area's cultural heritage was protected by the individual laws and decrees inherited from the many states and kingdoms that formerly made up Italy prior to it unification.

To archive the excavation finds from the Roman Forum, the city's cultural authorities placed the smaller antiquities discovered during this excavation upon a table in the Museo Forense cloister for cataloging.   The objects were then photographed against a dark background to aid in their identification and documentation.

Italy's archival records from this period document an image of the Head of Alexander, taken after its initial excavation, resting alone on this table in the aforementioned cloister.  The location where this image was taken is confirmed via a second image photographed in the same cloister of additional excavation finds from the Basilica Aemilia excavation which depicts objects photographed on the same table, but taken from a wider angle which allows the viewer to see the architectural elements from the cloister.  Based on these photographic records, the contested head of Alexander the Great is believed to have been discovered during the second phase of excavations which began after 1909, one year after the superintendency began using this type of photographic imagery for this excavation.

An ambrotype is an early form of photography dating to the 1850s which, in many ways, is a more cumbersome antique equivalent to the modern day slide, with the exception being the photograph was created by way of a fragile glass negative.  To preserve them, ambrotypes are generally stored in cases called a casket or union case and in single envelopes which require special care given their fragility. 

Sample ambrotype photo in its union case.
To date the find period for this object it must be remembered that the Italian authorities also have no contradicting written entries or alternative photographic archival documentation of any marble head finds, Alexander the Great or otherwise, from the Basilica Aemilia excavations related to the Barbarian statues prior to 1909.  All records of this marble head date from 1909 and points thereafter.

It is important to note that Professors Bartoli and Boni began their explorations in the zone of the Basilica Aemilia, where the head has been reported to have been excavated, in September 1909.  This time period, discussed at length in the State of New York's Application for Turnover, is documented in the archaeological record and demonstrates that in all likelihood, the marble head was found after September 1909 when excavations at the Basilica resumed.  Possibly more precisely, the first written documentation of marble sculptural heads of this type being found at the Basilica Aemilia were documented in  Bartoli's excavation journal in March and June 1910.  

This dating is critical to this restitution case in so much as Italy's Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage (No 364/1909) was made into law less than three months earlier, on 20 June 1909.  According to that law, there is a presumption of State ownership for all archaeological objects discovered after the law's implementation, unless the Italian cultural ministry acknowledges that the object does not have a cultural interest.  Given the importance of the Roman Forum excavations, it is not likely that the newly established Superintendency responsible for Rome would have categorized the symbolic head of Alexander the Great, from a site as important as the Basilica Aemilia, within the Forum Romanum,  as insignificant.

History tells us though that records for the marble head notated "perduta" (Italian for the word "lost") in November of 1960, when a review of the photographic negative of the Head of Alexander, inventory number 5862, no longer could be matched with a correlating object within the state's collection inventories.  Yet, at the time of this notation, there was no evidence to indicate that the object, or a second, also notated missing antiquity, had been stolen.  It is for this reason perhaps that the object was not archived within Italy's Leonardo database, the Italian state's archive for stolen art and antiquities.

But where was the object bought and sold before ultimately being located by the Italians? 

While the documentation of this object's collection history is spartan, we know that on 22 November 1974 the head of Alexander sold for a mere $650, having been consigned by the Hagop Kevorkian fund to Sotheby Parke Bernet. Sotheby’s Auction House acquired Parke Bernet Galleries in 1964 and adopted the name Sotheby Parke Bernet throughout the 1970s.  Today, that auction house is now known simply as Sotheby’s.  The buyer at this time was listed only as "Altertum Ltd."

Sometime after that date, the object was then purportedly purchased by Professor Oikonomides who indicated to others that he purchased the object while vacationing in Cairo, Egypt sometime between 1984 and 1986.  The object was then bequeathed to Dr. Miller by Oikonomides when he passed away in 1988.

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
On 08 December 2011 the object then sold at Sotheby's for a second time, during Sotheby’s Egyptian, Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities sale .

At the time of this second auction, the purported provenance for the object was listed as:

Hagop Kevorkian (1872-1962), New York, most likely acquired prior to World War II
The Hagop Kevorkian Fund (Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 22nd, 1974, no. 317, illus.)
A.N. Oikonomides, Chicago

At the time of this transaction, there was very little in the way of documentation to confirm the provenance narrative.  Despite this, the marble head sold to a then unidentified buyer for $92,500 USD.

In May 2017, the head of Alexander surfaced once again, but on the other side of the Atlantic.  This time the ancient marble head went up for sale in the United Kingdom, having once been in the possession of former Qatari culture minister and cousin of the current ruler of the oil-rich Arab country, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Ali Al-Thani.  Before his death in 2014 Sheikh Saud Al-Thani was believed to have been the world's richest art collector.

Through Classical Galleries Limited, UK the Sheikh’s foundation in turn sold the head of Alexander to Alan Safani of Safani Gallery for $152,625 on 20 June 2017.

Object Identified by the Italians

Safani Gallery Booth - TEFAF 2018
Image Credit: L. Albertson
By an amazing bit of serendipity, on 19 February 2018, Dr. Patrizia Fortini, Director and Coordinator of the Archaeological Site of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill chanced upon an art fair advertisement which featured a photo of the stolen head in a publication for the upcoming 2018 fine arts fair known as TEFAF.  In the dealer's documentation, a photograph of the head had been included highlighting Safani Gallery's offerings for the upcoming Maastricht sale due to be held in the Netherlands, 10-18 March 2018.  Fortini determined that the photo in the advertisement and the old archival documentation photo of the head in the Museo Forense’s cloister were of the same object.

That same day, 19 February 2018, Fortini contacted the Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage a informed them of her suspicions.  On February 20, 2018, the Carabinieri likewise notified the New York authorities of Dr. Fortini's concerns.  Two days later, on February 22, 2019, a formal theft report had been filed with the Italian authorities and Lieutenant Colonel Nicola Candido, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Rome, formally notified Matthew Bogdanos at the New York District Attorney's office that the Head of Alexander was “stolen from the L'Antiquarium Forense in Rome (Italy) - an Archaeological Site that belongs to the Italian State,” and that “the Italian Republic has never issued a state-approved license for the exportation of the [Head] from Italy; and has never transferred the ownership of the [Head] from Italy to any third party.”  These statements and the accompanying evidence gathered in relation to the assertion resulted in the seizure of the sculpture from Safani Gallery.

Statute of Limitations and Clear Title

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As clear title is not possible in the case of this marble head, this leaves Safani and his counsel, David Schoen, to see if they can make their case based on the laches defense.  The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest against the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the head could be considered in the context of laches under New York law, given that the theft occurred at an unknown time so many years ago, it has long been the law of the state of New York that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay in making their demand upon the person in possession of that property.  As Italy acted within days of its identification that its "lost" item was in fact stolen, this course of legal action doesn't seem to be a viable route for retaining the object in question.

Likewise, as of this date, Safani Gallery hasn't produced any records or bill of sale for any pre-1974 transaction for the Head of Alexander.  Nor are there any records or invoices for the 1974 sale by Sotheby’s to Altertum Ltd., or any export visas or stamp authorizing the Head’s legitimate removal from Italy. Nor are there any records which would confirm a date for which the object was shipped out of the source country, such as a bill of lading or a customs declaration.  This leaves Safani with little tangible evidence to disprove the NYDA's stance that the object was stolen and then illegally removed from Italy.

Despite this, on 14 November 2018 Safani's attorney reported that the New York courts denied the NY DA's Turnover Application

To clarify on the aforementioned tweet by David Schoen, which only presents a portion of the facts,  the judge in this complicated case has stayed the proceeding pending the outcome of the federal case, and ruled that New York does have jurisdiction to resolve ownership disputes of antiquities under PL 450.10, and that he will do so in appropriate cases.

So for now, the court wrangling continues to drag on.

To view the 22 February 2018 Seizure Order, please see here.
To view the 23 July 2018 Application for Turnover, please see here.
To view the 12 November 2019 Safani Complaint, please see here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 9, 2019

Saturday, November 09, 2019 - ,, No comments

Museum Theft: Numismatic thieves also strike at the Museo Civico Archeologico in Castiglion Fiorentino

In the second of two museum thefts reported in Italy this week, two thieves broke into the Museo Civico Archeologico in Castiglion Fiorentino around 2:00 am by forcing open a window in Palazzo Pretorio, in the early morning hours of 7 November.   As the alarm sounded drawing attention to their incursion, the culprits had to work quickly in order to complete their burglary before a private security firm, responding to the alarm, had time to intervene.

Once inside the museum, CCTV footage captured the pair on the second floor, where they proceeded to break into a display case and make off with thirty papal medals donated to the museum by a private collector. At present, it is not known whether their choice of objects was premeditated or simply an impulsive grab to get in and get out quickly before being captured.  Officials have reported however that the thieves took gilded gold medals from the case while leaving behind others which were dull in appearance but more valuable, being made of silver.

Saturday, November 09, 2019 - ,,, No comments

Museum Theft: Museo di San Mamiliano in Sovana, Italy


In one of two museum thefts this week in Italy, authorities have reported that fifty gold solidus, dating back to the 5th century CE have been stolen from the Museo di San Mamiliano in Sovana, Italy.  

Discovered during restoration works carried out under the floors of the city church of San Mamiliano in 2004, the hoard of gold coins is known as the Treasure of Sovana.  Coins like these, were once in use by the Byzantine Empire between the fourth and tenth centuries. 

In total, cultural authorities documented 498 coins in the cache which can be dated chronologically between the beginning of the 5th century with the reign of Honorius and the last decades of the century - the reign of Zeno. Each of the coins weighed in at approximately 1/72 of a Roman pound (approx. 4,5 grams), and is said to be nearly 24 karat gold (so in excess of 99% pure).

It has been reported that once the thief or thieves entered the museum, they were able to deactivate the alarm system connected to the local carabinieri station and then turn off the internal video surveillance system to impede their identification.  For good measure the thieves also stole a CCTV backup storage device, likely indicating they were familiar with the museum's security. 

Once inside the museum, the culprits attempted to break the safety glass surrounding the coins, but meeting some resistance, and pressed for time, the thieves made off with only a portion of the gold coins on display. 

The following is a list of the coins that make up the Treasure of Sovana divided by empire and by name of the emperor (or emperors) transcribed.  Note: Which coins are missing has not been released. 

Western Empire
  • Honorius: eight coins; mints of Milan and Ravenna.
  • Valentinian III: twelve coins; mints of Constantinople, Milan, Ravenna and Rome.
  • Petronius: a coin; mint of Rome.
  • Miano: two coins; mints of Milan and Ravenna.
  • Libio Severo: ten coins; mints of Milan, Ravenna and Rome.
  • Anthemius: seventeen coins; mints of Milan, Ravenna and Rome.
  • Glycerine: a coin; Mint of Milan.
  • Giulio Nepote: six coins; mints of Arelate, Milan, Ravenna and an unidentified Germanic area.
  • Romulus Augustus: eight coins; mints of Arelate, Milan and Rome.

Eastern Empire
  • Theodosius II: twenty-three coins; mints of Constantinople, Ravenna and Thessalonica.
  • Pulcheria: a coin; mint of Constantinople.
  • Marciano: eleven coins; mints of Constantinople and Thessalonica.
  • Leo I: twelve coins; mints of Constantinople, Milan, Rome and Thessalonica.
  • Leo I and Leo II: a coin; mint of Constantinople.
  • Leo II and Zeno: two coins; mint of Constantinople.
  • Basilisk: eight coins; mints of Constantinople, Milan and Rome.
  • Basilisk and Mark: two coins; mint of Constantinople.
  • Zeno: two coins; mint of Constantinople.
  • Ariadne (Wife of Zeno and Anastasius, daughter of Leo I, mother of Leo II): a coin; mint of Constantinople.


Today, the fifth-century solidus is highly sought after, as much for its gold purity, as for its historical interest. Purchased legally, they are usually more expensive than a denarius issued by the same emperor. 

November 8, 2019

Book Review – Females in the Frame, Women, Art and Crime

Guest Blog post by: Dr. Catherine Gardner

Penelope Jackson wrote this book as a result of a challenge unwittingly thrown down by Dr Noah Chaney. He somewhat naively noted in his 2015 book The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of Master Forgers “there is a decided lack of female forgers in this book; there are female accomplices and con men, but I know of no notable forgers in the history of forgery”.  This motivated Jackson to investigate further the role women play (have played) in art crime.  The result of her research is this easy to read book. 

Penelope Jackson is an Art Historian and is the author of: Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story (2016).  The offenders in this book are all men apart from one female thief who somewhat brazenly stole a piece of art from an exhibition in a small Otago town.  Jackson noted that the only other women in the book were at the receiving end of art crime. In Females in the Frame she wanted to uncover not only other roles women took in art crime but also try and understand their reasons for doing it.  For me, the why is often more interesting than the how.

One of the first things that you will notice (well I did anyway) is the depth of the research that Jackson has done for this book. In some instances, she has given institutions information about their artwork that they were unaware of.  In her way Jackson has added to the history of these artworks.

Jackson has given each chapter a theme which provides a useful cohesion to the book. These chapters are essentially case studies on the women involved.  I believe this makes the book more relatable as it brings the characters to life.  The chapters give examples of women who have destroyed art  (chapter 2 – Lady Destroyers), mothers who have protected their art criminal sons (chapter 3 – The Mother of All Art Crimes), women who have vandalised art (chapter 4 – She Vandals), women who conned artists and clients (chapter 5 - The Art of the Con(Wo)man), women who stole art works (chapter 6 - The Light Fingered),  forged art (chapter 7 - Naming Rights), those who used their professional positions to commit white collar crime (chapter 8 – The professionals) and her concluding chapter (chapter 9 – Afterword: Making a Noise about the Silence).

Jackson goes into detail in her chapters about the women who did what they did and why.  She has sympathy for some of the actions such as the Suffragettes who destroyed paintings rather than hurt people to highlight the inequity of women in society. Although the cause for women’s right to vote is a just one there is an overarching sadness in terms of artwork that has been lost due to vandalism, destruction or theft. Another example is of the Russian woman who stole from her work to pay for diabetes medication. Something I can’t imagine ever having to do living in my comfortable world but once again, I get a feeling of sadness and disappointment by Jackson who is fiercely protective of art works.   

She does save some particular ire for Clementine Churchill.  Jackson spends a considerable amount of time discussing Clementine Churchill’s alleged penchant for destroying unflattering portraits (according to her) of her husband.  One such painting was commissioned by the House of Commons and the House of Lords after the sum of 1000 guineas was raised.  This painting was to celebrate Churchill's 80th birthday.  The chosen artist was celebrated portraitist Graham Sutherland and the painting was unveiled at a televised event, meaning, thankfully, that there are photos of the painting. This painting was a gift from the nation but also to the nation of a highly regarded public figure. The story (in fact Jackson gives four possible accounts of its demise) is that Clementine did not like the portrait, that she believed it to be an unflattering likeness of Churchill and organised for it to be destroyed.  Arguably it showed him perfectly, quite possibly how everyone remembers him, stubborn, unbending and resolute, not to mention 80 years old.   Jackson rightly argues that this was never her painting to destroy.  This painting belonged to the people of Great Britain.  Likewise, Jackson asks the question about who truly has authority, ownership or the right to destroy any of these artworks.  

This segues rather nicely into the case studies of women protecting their art criminal sons and the lengths they would take to protect them, including the heart-breaking destruction of many irreplaceable pieces. Jackson is forever trying to understand why the women did as they did and explores the psychology behind their actions as well.  I believe this adds another layer of richness to the book.

Jackson also discusses where artwork has been accidently damaged by cleaners or more intriguingly or perhaps tragically by amateur restorers.  She highlights the work by two well-meaning but ultimately hopeless (that word might be too strong) women who did irreparable damage to very old and sacred work.  They meant well but there is a reason why such work is left to the professionals. In my view, the results were criminal and perhaps did more damage than any criminal/vandal could have done.

Another very interesting story that Jackson writes about is the case of an Australian woman, an acclaimed artist, who decided one day to paint under a nom de brush.  That in itself was not an issue, but it was the fact that she took on the name and persona of an aboriginal man and began to paint in an obvious aboriginal style that is the problem.  Add to that her total lack of understanding why a white, middle class woman pretending to be an aboriginal man might be offensive.  

Jackson’s book also sets the story straight on a few myths.  The belief that the novelist Patricia Cornwell destroyed a painting just to get DNA from the artist is debunked by setting out the facts of what happened. Likewise, in her final chapter she also sets the record straight on the film, The Monuments Men and separates the truth from the Hollywood version. This brings me to my favourite moment in the book, the story of Rose Valland (played by Cate Blanchett in the movie The Monuments Men).  As Jackson says the film should be called The Monuments Men and Women but Hollywood never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  It is this section in the book (in my view) that sums up so much of what Jackson is trying to highlight.   

Rose Valland (inter-alia) was responsible for saving and recovering many works of art that the Nazis tried to pilfer during world war two.  She put her life on the line so that these works could be recovered.  Rather than focusing on this remarkable act of bravery and the fact that she was a well-qualified art historian there seems to be more attention placed on how she looked; “plain looking, and plainly dressed” or described as; “a mousy little spinster” (with nerves of tungsten).  Jackson talks more than once about gendered language in her book and comments on the way in which women are portrayed in the media versus men.  

Jackson has written an accessible book that takes the reader on a journey into the world of art and crime and women.  She attempts to understand why the women did as they did as well as trying to redress the balance in how women are portrayed in print.  It is evident that Jackson has a real love of art and the overriding message for me was the need to protect and look after all art so that future generations can experience these marvellous works. 

November 7, 2019

Exhibition commemorating the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht: Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy


In commemoration of the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the state-sponsored pogrom known as the “Night of Broken Glass” which took place November 9-10, 1938, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) is hosting an speaking engagement Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 7:00 pm featuring Dr. Michael Hayden, MC, OBC followed by the opening of a special exhibition which is then scheduled to remain at the centre for a little more than one year.

The event Kristallnacht Commemoration and Dr. Hayden's talk will be streamed online on Facebook tonight, November 7th at 7pm (PST).

Dates:  
November 8, 2019 – November 27, 2020
Location:  
Wosk Auditorium, Jewish Community Centre Greater Vancouver
950 West 41 Avenue
VANCOUVER, BC October 23, 2019

The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) is an acclaimed teaching museum devoted to Holocaust based anti-racism education.  

Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy brings together items from the Hahn archive alongside rich artefacts to detail the story of the family, their collection, and their descendants’ restitution efforts and exhibition speaks to timely themes of cultural loss, reconciliation and intergenerational legacy.

During Kristallnacht hundreds of synagogues in Germany and Austria were burned, Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed, nearly 100 Jews were killed and 30,000 were sent to concentration camps.

Kristallnacht was a turning point in the Nazi persecution of European Jews and a defining moment for Max and Gertrud Hahn of Göttingen, Germany. 

Born in Göttingen, Germany in 1880, Max Hahn was a successful businessman, civic leader and passionate collector.  The Hahn’s Judaica collection was one of the most significant private collections in pre-war Europe, rivalling those of the Rothschild and Sassoon families. During the Kristallnacht pogrom, Max was arrested, and the Nazis proceeded to confiscate his silver Judaica and strip the family of their property and possessions. 

With the support of his wife, Gertrud, Max engaged in a lengthy battle to retrieve his stolen collection. While their children, Rudolf (later Roger Hayden) and Hanni, were sent to England for safety in 1939, Max and Gertrud were deported to Riga in December 1941, where they ultimately perished. Most of their collection was never recovered.

Roger’s son, Dr. Michael Hayden, MC, OBC, became immersed in his remarkable family history when he encountered photographs and documents left to him by his father. This original exhibition, developed by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, brings together items from the Hahn archive alongside rich artefacts and interviews to detail the story of the Hahn family, their collection, and their descendants’ restitution efforts. Involving extensive research and intensive negotiations with German museums and archives, the family’s ongoing search for their stolen collection speaks to timely themes of cultural loss, reconciliation and intergenerational legacy.

The Exhibition is supported by Michael and Sandy Hayden and children, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver, the Isaac and Sophie Waldman Endowment Fund of the Vancouver Foundation, Isaac and Judy Thau, Yosef Wosk, Audre Jackson, and the Goldie and Avrum Miller Memorial Endowment Fund of the VHEC.

The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) is Western Canada’s leading Holocaust teaching museum, reaching more than 25,000 students annually and producing acclaimed exhibitions, innovative school programs and teaching materials. The VHEC is a leader in Holocaust education in British Columbia, dedicated to promoting human rights, social justice and genocide awareness, and to teaching about the causes and consequences of discrimination, racism and antisemitism through education and remembrance of the Holocaust.

November 4, 2019

Monday, November 04, 2019 - ,, No comments

The cathedral of Oloron-Sainte-Marie was attacked in a smash and grab


In the early morning of November 4th, robbers committed a smash and grab robbery at the Cathedral Sainte-Marie d'Oloron located in the town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.  Awakened to the sounds of a Viking-inspired battering ram, nearby neighbors reported the ruckus to the local gendarmes who responded quickly, but not before the thieves had made their getaway.


Upon arrival, law enforcement discovered that the culprits had used a tree trunk mounted onto a vehicle, to break open a small door to the right of the cathedral's main entrance.  Clergy from the 12th century UNESCO World Heritage Site have stated that the culprits then sawed through metal bars and broke into storage cabinetry, taking only things they could easily and quickly carry such as ciboriums, chalices, and cruets.  The accomplices, believed to be three men, abandoned the car used to break their way into the church, leaving the crime scene in a second vehicle.  

Given the tools required to cut through metal bars and the time it would take to mount something on to an automobile to break through a solid door, it appears that the robbers were well prepared and knew precisely what they wanted to take and how they could gain entry into the historic church.


This morning, Hervé Lucbéreilh, the mayor of Oloron, spoke publicly about the attack. 


By: Vittoria Ricci

November 3, 2019

Dear Christie's: What's the story on your provenance on this antefix?


An interesting antefix has been published with Christie's as part of their December 4, 2019 sales event which deserves a closer examination regarding its legitimacy on the ancient art market.  For those who do not know, an anteflix is an upright ornament, used by ancient builders along the eaves of a tiled roof to conceal tile joints.

The provenance for the antiflix is listed as follows:

Provenance

While not specified in Christie's very brief collection history, Ingrid McAlpine was the wife of Bruce McAlpine, husband and wife proprietors of McAlpine Ancient Art Limited in the UK. 

While not completely identical, the soon to be auctioned anteflix on consignment with Christie's, closely resembles another ancient Etruscan antefix in the form of a maenad and Silenus.  This one once graced the cover of the exhibition catalog "A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman."   That South Etruscan, 500-475 BCE, terracotta and pigment antiflix was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection via Robin Symes for a tidy sum of  $396,000 and exhibited at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1995.  Later, in 2007, that antiquity would be relinquished to Italy by the J. Paul Getty Museum after the antefix was matched to a Polaroid photo recovered during a 1995 police raid on warehouse space rented by Giacomo Medici at Ports Francs & Entrepôts in Geneva. 

The Christie's auction antefix also closely resembles another pair of suspect terracotta and pigment antefixes depicting a maenad and Silenus.  This grouping was once on display at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum.  Like with the J. Paul Getty purchase, an image of the Copenhagen antefix showing a fragmentary antefix were matched with photos in the seized Medici dossier.  As with the Getty terracotta, this object too was eventually restituted to Italy. 

Bruce McAlpine's name also comes up with other illicit objects later identified as having been laundered through the licit art market which were later assessioned into a collection at a prestigious museum.  An Attic black-figured hydria (no.3), once on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston came through McAlpine via Palladion Antike Kunst, a gallery operated by Ursula Becchina, the wife of Gianfranco Becchina.  In addition, the Italian authorities working on these restitutions seized a copy of a letter, written by the staff of Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine Ancient Art Gallery dated 8 July 1986 which tied them to at least one transaction with Giacomo Medici via companies the disgraced dealer operated through third parties, fronts or pseudonyms. 

One final illustration of the triangulation in the world of illicit transactions


The names of Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine appear alongside Robin Symes AND Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman for the donation of an Apulian bell-krater to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. This vase too was restituted to Italy in October 2006.

All of which leads to several questions

Why was Bruce Alpine's name and the name of his ancient art firm omitted from the provenance record published by Christie's ahead of the December 4th auction?   

Was this omission an accidental oversight on Christie's part or an elective decision, perhaps as a way to reduce the possibility of the object's previous owners drawing unnecessary attention?    

What collection history does the auction house have, if any, that predates the 1994 McAlpine acquisition date?

and lastly,

What steps, if any, did Christie's take to contact the Italian authorities , in order to crosscheck whether or not this object might or might not be acceptable for sale? 
By:  Lynda Albertson