July 16, 2020

In difesa della bellezza: quando la cooperazione ci restituisce un patrimonio prezioso

Martedì 24 giugno a Palazzo Pitti è stata inaugurata una nuova mostra dal titolo “Storie di pagine dipinte. Miniature recuperate dai Carabinieri” (che sarà aperta fino al 4 ottobre 2020), organizzata dalle Gallerie degli Uffizi, in collaborazione con l’Università degli Studi di Firenze e con il Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale. Alla conferenza sono infatti intervenuti gli esponenti delle tre prestigiose istituzioni: il direttore degli Uffizi Eike Schmidt, il generale Roberto Riccardi, del Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale e la prof.ssa Sonia Chiodo, curatrice della mostra e una tra i massimi esperti in Storia della Miniatura. 

La mostra è stata l’esito di un laboratorio didattico della Scuola di Specializzazione in Beni Artistici, corso biennale di alta formazione dell’Università di Firenze. Un giovane team di ricerca, composto da tredici storici dell’arte, sotto la guida appunto della prof.ssa Chiodo, hanno studiato circa sessanta pagine miniate che sono state recuperate dai Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela. Una sinergia di forze e di competenze che hanno cooperato non solo all’allestimento espositivo e ma soprattutto allo studio, al recupero e alla valorizzazione di queste preziose opere d’arte cartacee. Le pagine manoscritte e i cuttings facevano tutti parte di corali liturgici, grandi libri dedicati ai canti della Messa e delle preghiere quotidiane, riccamente decorati di miniature. 

I corali hanno subito furti e sono stati violati nella loro integrità. Molti fogli sono stati strappati o tagliati, rubati, venduti in gruppi, completamente privati del proprio contesto e infine dispersi. Come ha precisato la prof.ssa Chiodo: 

“Le pagine recuperate sono vittime di un naufragio, ma dobbiamo tenere presente che ciò che manca non è perduto ma soltanto disperso. Da qualche parte nel mondo è ancora conservato da qualcuno, che forse inconsapevolmente, ne detiene illecitamente la proprietà”

La mostra è divisa in sei sezioni, corrispondenti ai luoghi di provenienza delle pagine dei corali: i conventi francescani di Pistoia e di Poggibonsi; la pieve di Castelfiorentino; la chiesa di Santo Stefano al Ponte di Firenze; le abbazie benedettine di San Pietro e di Montemorcino a Perugia. Lo studio storico-artistico è stato il presupposto fondamentale per le indagini e si è occupato della ricostruzione dei frammenti. Oltre che dalla bibliografia e dalle fotografie occorre partire dal dettaglio superstite per creare nuovamente l’insieme perduto, che deve essere studiato cercando di capire e di riconoscere la morfologia del corale; così come lo specchio di scrittura, articolato dalla parte musicale e da quella testuale e di ricomporre la scansione liturgica dei graduali e degli antifonari. 

Uno studio interessante che non si limita alla parte teorica della Storia dell’Arte ma che richiede di scendere in campo e di conoscere dal vivo le pagine nei luoghi in cui sono conservate. Personalmente mi sono occupata della serie di 22 corali proveniente dall’abbazia olivetana di Montemorcino a Perugia, trasferiti nella casa madre dell’Ordine a Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Asciano) il 4 agosto del 1821. Il mio gruppo di ricerca era composto da altre tre colleghe, le dottoresse Beatrice Molinelli, Giulia Spina e Alice Stivali. Ricostruire l’intera serie ormai dispersa non è stato semplice anche per la spregiudicatezza del furto, avvenuto alle prime ore del 7 maggio del 1975, che ha compromesso irreversibilmente l’unità della serie fatta di immagini, parole e musica. 

I ladri rubarono sedici pesanti corali dalla biblioteca dell’abbazia lasciandone quattro durante la fuga. Alcuni mesi dopo sono stati ritrovati i resti di questi libri nel letame, privati della legatura originale quattrocentesca, della coperta e ovviamente di tutte le miniature. La nostra ricerca si è basata sulle fotografie precedenti al furto, sulla bibliografia e sullo spoglio dei cataloghi d’asta. Il lavoro è poi proseguito con lo studio del contenuto liturgico e con l’analisi stilistica delle piccole opere d’arte miniate, fortemente influenzate dalla maniera pittorica di Perugino e Pintoricchio. 

Siamo riuscite così a individuare e ricollegare altri nuovi frammenti di questa importante serie umbra e individuare un corale, contente l’Officio dei Morti, che era considerato disperso e ora ricongiunto alla serie per cui era stato realizzato. Queste miniature sono ancora più preziose in quanto evocative di una storia perduta. Sono infatti l’unica testimonianza rimasta dell’abbazia benedettina di Montemorcino, costruita su volere del cardinale Niccolò Capocci entro il 1371, della quale resta solamente un lato del chiostro a seguito della demolizione avvenuta nel 1739. 


La mostra si presenta dunque come un esempio concreto e riuscito di come la ricerca scientifica e quella criminologica possono e devono concorrere insieme al recupero e alla restituzione del patrimonio artistico e culturale. L’auspicio è che collaborazioni di questo tipo possano perpetuarsi nel tempo ed essere un monito e uno strumento educativo affinché l’arte non venga più lesa ma possa restare un bene per l’umanità. 

Maria Eletta Benedetti, Guest Blogger, ARCA

When a church loses its Madonna can cultural diplomacy help her find her way back home?

On 9 July 1985 the Parish Church of San Felice Martire, located in S. Felice a Cancello, Italy suffered a horrendous loss.  Their gilded wooden statue, depicting the Madonna covered with a golden mantle and with the royal diadem on her head, holding the baby Jesus who is giving a blessing, was stolen.  Then in the copy put in her place was also stolen.

The original fourteenth-century ecclesiastical treasure, venerated by the Sanfelicians, soon found its way into the international underground and was smuggled out of Italy.  A short while later, in 1988 it popped up on the German art market. Yet, like thousands of other stolen Italian treasures, retrieving stolen art in Germany is no easy task, especially once that artwork has been laundered into the hands of a private individual as the country's laws try to balance the interests of the victim of theft of art and the interests of the good-faith acquirer.

Despite international letters rogatory, Italy's claim was rejected as inadmissible by the German authorities and, in 2000, Interpol Wiesbaden confirmed to the Italians that the current holder had bought the work in good faith, closing the door to the possibility of restitution.

According to the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated BGB, which is the civil code of Germany § 935 there is no good-faith acquisition of title for stolen bewegliche cache ("movable property") as the owner (in this case the church) has not parted with his direct possession deliberately, so that the third person (thief) shall not have the benefit of the appearance of entitlement through possession under such circumstances.  However, anyone who acquires said property in good faith and has maintained this work in his or her possession for at least 10 years, while continuing to be in good faith, automatically acquires valid title. 

Likewise in Germany if the thief, upon his or her death was not in good faith but his heirs "inherit" the stolen property unknowingly and in good faith, the heir also can also acquire legal title after 10 years from the point of inheritance.  Legal title of a stolen work of art can also transfer to the good-faith acquirer if the work of art is sold in public auction (section 935(2), CC).

All this to say that the push by Italy's parliamentarians Margherita Corrado, Vilma Moronese, Luisa Angrisani, Danila De Lucia, Bianca Laura Granato, Vincenzo Presutto and Orietta Vanin made in April to Dario Franceschini,  Italy's Minister for Cultural Goods and Activities and Tourism (MiBact), encouraging him to engage directly with Monika Grütters, Germany's Commissioner for Culture and the Media, to honor the request of the patrons of church of San Felice Martyr,  is, for now, purely an exercise in cultural diplomacy.  Whether or not this soft parliamentary request will go farther than the transnational judicial one did remains to be seen.  

July 15, 2020

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch - four canopic jars of Djed-Ka-Re, Vizier of Upper Egypt

Lot 278, Set of four canopic jars of Djed-Ka-Re, Vizier of Upper Egypt
was once in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM), now on auction with Gorny & Mosch
ICOM Österreich in Vienna has reported that the German auction house Gorny & Mosch Gorny is offering a set of suspect Egyptian canopic jars in its upcoming Auction 272: Ancient Art, Africa, Asiatica (among others from the Dr. Wiedner collection which is scheduled to take place on 22 July 2020. 

Traditionally, the four canopic jars would have been used to hold the embalmed viscera removed from the body of the Egyptian vizier during his mummification process. Made of alabaster, each of the suspect artefacts have individualized lids, carved with the heads of the four sons of the god Horus: Qebehsenuef with a falcon head, Hapi with a baboon head, Imsety with a human head, and Duamutef with a jackal head. Each jar served as a funerary guardian to a separate internal organ of the deceased.

These antiquities were removed from Austria's Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna, where they were documented as part of the museum's inventory as far back as 1824.  The jars are believed to have been sold out the back door, likely during the period when Hans Demel was the museum's collections manager, and who is believed by some to have practiced "imaginative inventory management."

Yet, despite being notified by the KHM in December 2018 that the consigned artefacts were illegitimately sold without the museum's actual authorization, Gorny & Mosch's Frau Dr. M. Nollé omits the museum altogether in this company sales video.  Here Frau Nollé states only that the artefacts were once privately owned by Franz Joseph I the Emperor of Austria, failing to mention the Austrian claim or that the objects were ever part of the embezzled Kunsthistorisches Museum collection.  In fact, she goes to great lengths to talk about Egyptian burial practices and completely skips over this key passage in the pedigree of these antiquities. 


A check of Gorny & Mosch's website mentions the museum obliquely, without naming it specifically but in a hodge-podge of words that makes it sound like their sale was legitimate.

"Provenance: These four canopies come from the possession of the Austrian imperial family and were for the first time by E. von Bergmann in the Recueil des travaux relatifs à la philologie et larchéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes, Volume IX, Paris 1887, pp. 57-59 No. 33 , published. They are also mentioned A. Weil in 1908 in his work Die Veziere des Pharaonenreichs, p. 148, with the storage instructions of Canopic Jars, Vienna. After the First World War, the jugs probably entered the art trade, where they were sold in 1958 by the Frankfurt coin dealership E. Button. The canopic jars come from the so-called old inventory of the imperial collection and are already mentioned in the inventory from 1824. In the inventory from 1875 they are listed under inv. 3580-3583 registered. The canopic jars have been published several times or mentioned in scientific articles, but there are no photos of the objects. From 1913 to 1951, Dr. Hans Demel, director in the Egyptian-Oriental collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. After his death in 1951, his successor, Dr. Egon Komorzynski carried out a general revision of the inventories from 1952 to 1967, in which it was found that numerous objects were missing. These were officially removed from the inventory in 1967, including the canned set of Djedkare (inv. No. 3580-3583)."



Frankfurter Münzhandlung E Button, was managed by Elisabeth Button, who took over the family-run coin company of Adolph E. Cahn in 1935, two years after the National Socialists seized power in Germany.  The remaining Cahn family members Herbert Adolph Cahn and Erich Cahn had by then fled to Switzerland, along with their mother Johanna Neuberger.  But the truth is, how or when the jars arrived in Ms. Button's hands does not wash them clean, and the auction firm has a duty to inform its clients of the Austria museum collection history and the fact that Austria wants these antiquities back. 

Piecing together the story of the Egyptian artefacts' removal, all roads appear to lead back to collections manager Hans Demel, who is known to have dealt closely with a distasteful man named Rudolf Raue, someone some Jewish World War II-era claimants refer to as "a parasite of the worst kind". 

Raue instead referred to himself as an independent merchant, or art dealer, or excavation specialist, and by 1944, was conducting sales via the Dorotheum. That auction house, in turn, asked the NSDAP Gauleitung Vienna (the local affiliate to the Nazi Party) for a political certificate of good conduct for Raue which was then endorsed by the head of the Gaupersonalamt.  

As the first country annexed by Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938, Austria set the stage for the implementation of Aryanizations in other territories that Germany would later occupy and it was initially under the provisional administration of the NSDAP that Rudolf Raue became the sub-authorized representative for three Jewish-owned shops which were subsequently "aryanized": Josef Berger & Sohn at Mollardgasse 10 in the sixth district, and the antique shops of Adolf Löwy located on  Rauhensteingasse 7 and Richard Klein at 4th, Karlsgasse 16.

Brought to trial after the war along with several other individuals involved in the "Aryanization" of Austria's Jewish-owned businesses,  Raue was never formally charged, and according to the Central Business Register, he continued to practice the art and antique trade until December 29, 1961. 

During that time of Raue's business dealings he is known to have had dealings with Oxan Aslanian, a collector and art dealer born in Armenia who operated out of Berlin.  In addition to selling and collecting, Aslanian was a forger of exceptional Egyptian fakes, some of which deceive experts even today.  Given Raue's ability to sell off the property of displaced and murdered jews without blinking an eye,  and his rapport with a forger, one would not be surprised if he was also willing to serv as an intermediary to embezzled museum pieces handed over by a crooked museum employee. 

If the name Gorny & Mosch rings a bell, it's because their lack of transparency and due diligence is nothing new and has been discussed with regularity on ARCA's blog.

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 8, 2020

When the market incentivises plunder: Unravelling the laundering of the Eldarir family legacy.


For the last two days I have been pouring over the known objects that have sales "fingerprints" which demonstrate a likelihood of possibly being touched by Ashraf Omar Eldarir, the US citizen, recently indicted for smuggling Egyptian antiquities.  Yesterday I added more suspect antiquities to that list and today I will add some more, putting the objects in chronological order as best I can, based on what we know so far as it helps to show how these objects moved from one dealer to another creating what at face value would appear to be a plausible collection history, except it isn't.  

I'd like to thank Paul Barford for his own public efforts at compiling his own version of this list as well as two confidential sources who have helped illustrate a few more of these passages.

Barford's hypothesis that this is not all of the Eldarir artefacts is a valid one,  as this list will demonstrate multiple instances where provenance details were omitted, either earlier on in the "whitening" cycle, or to not show catalogues flooded with objects over and over again coming from one single source. 

What this list will demonstrate is that the demand for objects from 2012 until 2020, and the ease at which they were absorbed into the licit market and resold, sometimes for high sums, is likely to have served to incentivise the accused, who now, alone, faces charges in the US Courts.   

Having said that, now on to the slightly more organized and ever-growing list identified objects up through 08 July 2020 that have been found to be circulating with ancient art dealers in the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Austria with provenance we believe directly pertains to Ashraf Omar ELDARIR.

Date of Publication Unknown 


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name appears with this Egyptian Wood Painted Sarcophagus Mask with Howard Nowes at Art for Eternity.

 05 December 2012 


Christie's LOT 94. This is the first appearance of the Roman Marble Portrait Head of a Man.  Its provenance makes no mention of Eldarir.  It is listed simply as "Acquired by the grandfather of the current owner and brought to New York, prior to 1948; thence by descent" and sold for $52,500.


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name appears for the first time with this pair of Ancient Egyptian Bronze Eyes with Trocadero via Mark Goodstein at Explorer Ancient Art.

01 May 2013


Eldarir sold four Egyptian limestone relief fragments for Wahibrenebahet through Bonhams in London for €31,766 claiming they were from his personal collection, inherited through his grandfather who was a friend of Prince of Egypt Omar Tosson.

04 May 2014 



This Egyptian limestone relief associated with the cult of Amun which was sold through Gabriel Vandervort at Ancient Resource LLC.

18 May 2015 


This Limestone Stele fragment with no clearly named provenance can be found with Howard Rose in his 18 May 2015 Arte Primitivo sales catalogue. It will later turn up again in 2016 with Alexander Biesbroek.

NOTE: Several other Egyptian pieces in this catalogue DO NOT specify Eldarir but have the same "exported to the USA in XXXX" phrasing as the Eldarir pieces.

2016 


The Limestone Relief Fragment reappears, this time with Ashraf Eldarir provenance.  It sells for £28,750 via Alexander Biesbroek at Alexander Ancient Art.

30 June - 6 July 2016 

Page Screenshot as Charles Ede Ltd., has removed this item
from their website as of 8 July 2020
Ezeldeen Eldarir's name appears with this Egyptian hieroglyphic relief fragment that is with James Ede at Charles Ede Ltd.

06 March 2017 


This Egyptian Standing Wooden Overseer with Ezeldeen Eldarir provenance can be found with Howard Rose in his 06 March 2017 Arte Primitivo sales catalogue.

NOTE: Several other Egyptian pieces in this catalogue DO NOT specify Eldarir but have the same "exported to the USA in XXXX" phrasing as the Eldarir pieces.

31 October 2018 



Christie’s LOT 49 First appearance of the Over-Lifesized Greek Marble Head, Provenance: "Acquired by the grandfather of the current owner and brought to New York, prior to 1948; thence by descent".  Sold for $52,500.

05 December 2018 


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name appears with this Wood & Gesso Sarcophagus Mask with Bob and Teresa Dodge at Artemis Gallery.

23 March 2019 


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name appears with this 26th Dynasty, Egyptian wood sarcophagus bust, with Washington DC dealer Sue McGovern at Sands of Time Ancient Art.

16 September 2019





Multiple pieces with Ezeldeen Eldarir provenance can again be found with Howard Rose in his 16 September 2019 Arte Primitivo sales catalogue including the previous pair of Ancient Egyptian Bronze Eyes previously advertised on Trocadero via Mark Goodstein at Explorer Ancient Art in 2012.

NOTE: Several other Egyptian pieces in this catalogue DO NOT specify Eldarir but have the same "exported to the USA in XXXX" phrasing as the Eldarir pieces, including the above Mudbrick and Plaster Painted Fragment #485 which will appear on the market again WITH Eldarir provenance via a Tennessee dealer on eBay in 2020.

2 December 2019 

Ezeldeen Eldarir's name appears again with the same Egyptian Pottery Jar with 70 Ushabtis with Howard Rose in his December 2019 Arte Primitivo sales catalogue.

2020 






Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with Two Diorite Poppy Bead Amulets, an Amulet of a Wadj Sceptre with a Lotus Flower, a Lapis Lazuli Heart Amulet, a Hematite Heart Amulet and for the second time, the collection of 230 Faience Ushabtis,  and this Wooden Standing Figure of a Manat with Christoph Bacher Archäologie Ancient Art GmbH.

The wood figurine and the ushabtis were previously with Howard Rose in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

12 February 2020 


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Wooden Ushabti with Harlan J. Berk in his February 2020 HJB 210th Buy or Bid Sale sales catalogue.

07 March 2020 


Izz al-Din Tah al-Darir Bey's name (different spelling) appears on two objects sold earlier through Christie’s with the Eldarir name. One is now listed as the Ptolemaic Royal Portrait, possibly of Ptolemy III Euergetes and the other as the Portrait Head of the Emperor Severus Alexander. Both were with Jean-David Cahn at TEFAF in Maastricht at Stand 422 when we took pictures but neither object is now on Cahn’s website.

Both of these pieces passed through Christies before arriving to Cahn in Switzerland. The head on 05 December 2012 and the mask on 31 October 2018. 

04 March 2020 


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Egyptian Large Terracotta Isis-Aphrodite with Howard Rose on his website.

04 June 2020 




Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Egyptian Polychrome Gesso Coffin Lid, these Egyptian Ptolemaic Papyrus Scrolls, Demotic Script and these other Egyptian Ptolemaic Papyrus Scrolls with Bob and Teresa Dodge at Artemis Gallery. 

July 2020


Ezeldeen Eldarir's name also appears with this Egyptian Polychrome Wall Painting being sold on eBay by "tassbunch2".

The next question is, sure the authorities seem to have caught a potential smuggler with at least 1025 objects circulating hither and thither.  But what about all the actors before and after him in this illicit supply chain of merry-go-round suitcases?

It is only when foreign buying agents, among them representatives from the United States, the UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria, looking to cash in on padding out private collections back home that smuggling Egypt’s patrimony became such a lucrative money-making business.

By:  Lynda Albertson