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December 20, 2023

Wednesday, December 20, 2023 - ,,,, No comments

And the epigraphic fragment of the marble lararium lived happily ever after...

Our story begins at the house of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, a banker from Pompeii, whose residence was found buried under a blanket of ash and lapilli during the Bourbon excavations in 1844.  Between 1875-1876 researchers exploring his residence discovered a stash of some 154 waxed boards, which gave us the occupant's historic profession.  These recorded the commissions paid (1-4%) for loans with the banker between 52 and 62 AD.  Most covered transactions for real estate rents, securities, trade goods, and in some cases the purchase of animals and slaves.  

Three of these recovered apochae, (receipts from a creditor acknowledging the payment of a debt) offered a captivating peek into the everyday life of the home's enigmatic "banker," who, before Vesuvius blew, in 79 CE, once lead a comfortable life in this domus.  They also serve as a window into the everyday transactions of Pompeii's middle class merchants and landowners as they documented items sold, alongside the identities of sellers and, in one case even the buyer. Issued to Iucundus, in front of named witnesses, these ancient documents cover sums ranging from a few hundred sesterces to as much as 38,000 sesterces, each meticulously recorded as transactions between the merchant banker and his private clients or at auctions for small transactions.  

Walking inside the vestibule of the house of Iucundus, with its floor mosaic depicting a guard dog, you arrive to his atrium, with its central impluvium surrounded by a mosaic of geometric figures.  One of the most important rooms in a Roman house, it is here, in the north-west corner that Iucundus placed his lararium, a shrine to the guardian spirits of his Roman household, where the banker, his family and his servants, likely performed daily rituals to guarantee their protection.  

We know from the details of the carved frieze on two sides of this home chapel that the lararium was positioned here after the famous earthquake which shook the city in 62 CE because it details, on two of its bas-reliefs, the damage from that event. The first bas-relief, found intact, details the collapse of the Capitolium in the Forum of Pompeii next to a ceremony propitiating the Goddess Tellus.  

The second relief depicts the damage suffered by the Porta Vesuvius which collapsed as a result of the earthquake and to its left the castellum aquae.  This marble slab was not found inside Iucundus' house, but in the areas adjacent to it.  Why the banker chose to memorialise this mournful event is unknown, but perhaps having born witness to the earlier destruction and having escaped catastrophe, he wanted to offer a ex voto to his tutelary deities for the grace they bestowed on his family. 

Originally stored in the Antiquarium of Pompeii, these two marble reliefs were eventually reinstalled in the house of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus when his lararium was restored.  They and depicted in numerous photos, in situ, from the 1930s onward.   The piece depicting the Porta Vesuvius was cemented into the north wall above the base of the lararium, perhaps because of its imprecise find spot.  There, both reliefs remained, that is until thieves began prying pieces loose in the 1970s. 

Subsequent to the theft, the remaining bas-relief was moved to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, for safekeeping, while all that remained of the second fragment which depicted the Porta Vesuvius was its cast impression, taken in the 1930s and part of the collection at the Museo della Civiltà Romana in Rome.  There were no further traces of the stolen bas-relief until it was identified some 50 years later, cemented into the staircase of another family home, this time in Flanders, Belgium.  

Raphaël De Temmerman, 80, and his son, Geert De Temmerman, told authorities that they visited Pompeii in 1975, (long after Italy's cultural property laws went into effect.  While touring the archaeological site, the pair were approached by an unidentified man who offered to sell them an ancient souvenir.  Without thinking if their actions were legal or not, the tourists purchased the ancient marble and returned home to Belgium with a 2000 year old momento of their trip.  

Back home in Tongeren, the relief was cemented into the family's stairwell, wherte remained in the De Temmerman's home until Geert contacted the Gallo-Roman museum in Flanders hoping to get the piece appraised.  From there it was identified as the well documented artefact stolen from the Pompeii banker's domus. 

Anyone who has visited Pompeii in the 1970s comparing it with today has seen the devastation the influx of tourists to archaeological wonders can cause, (with or without theft).   The sheer volume of visitors, coupled with a lack of awareness or disregard for preservation, has led to an erosion of delicate frescoes, as well as the deterioration of centuries-old structures, and wear-and-tear on the very remnants that attract these crowds. 

Trampling on restricted areas, unauthorised touching, and even instances of graffiti also contribute to the gradual degradation of this historical marvel, despite the best efforts of its site managers, who do their best to strike a balance between making this cultural treasure accessible to the public and still safeguarding the city for future generations. 

Legends speak of the spectral inhabitants of this archaeological site, the echoes of lives abruptly interrupted by the cataclysmic eruption.  Some say that the spirits of Pompeii's past residents wander amidst the remnants of their homes and streets, quietly observing the influx of modern-day visitors. Visiting this archaeologicalsite, ARCA recommends that tourists take only memories and leave only footprints, lest the restless souls of the city's past inhabitants subject you to their ethereal disapproval. 

December 17, 2023

Lost Time, Found Art: The Decade-Long Pursuit of Restitution for Antiquities Smuggled by Douglas Latchford at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 2013 the Metropolitan Museum of Art restituted two,10th-century, Koh Ker stone statues, known as the “Kneeling Attendants” to Cambodia.  These artefacts had been donated in separate stages to the Museum in the late 1980s and early 1990s and had been associated with antiquities collector-dealer-trafficker Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”, who for 50 years, was once considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Asian Art before his unmasking. 

As early as 2012, Bangkok-based Latchford had already been identified in a civil lawsuit, as a middleman in the trafficking of looted Khmer sculptures from “an organized looting network” and was said to have conspired with the London auction house Spink & Son Ltd., to launder looted temple antiquities. 

Douglas Latchford's
Facebook photo
on 28 October 2017,
two years
before he was indicted.
On 21 December 2016, following months of interviews with confidential informants, and the examination of thousands of emails and other seized documents, as well as years of investigations into international smuggling networks, the office of the New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan filed criminal charges against New York antiquities dealer Nancy Weiner, stating that she used her gallery “to buy, smuggle, launder, and sell millions of dollars’ worth of antiquities stolen from Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, India, Pakistan and Thailand.” In their complaint, it was documented that Weiner “and her co-conspirators, [one of whom was Douglas Latchford], trafficked in illegal antiquities for decades.”  (New York/Manhattan Wiener complaint, p. 2) .

In 2019 charges were filed in the United States against the then 88 year old Latchford by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Feinstein, in the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit, for his purported role in "wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities." Many of the suspect objects mentioned in his 25 page indictment passed through his hands en route to the Met and other important collections, during the course of his business operations.  Latchford died on 2 August 2020 before he could be extradited to the United States and his indictment was formally dismissed, due to his death, the following month. 

Last Friday, the United States authorities announced that the Met would be returning fourteen more pieces to Cambodia, dating from the ninth to the 14th centuries, plus an additional artefacts to Thailand.

The pieces going home to Cambodia are:

This 7th century CE pre-Angkor period sandstone Head of a Buddha, which was purportedly with implicated New York dealer Doris Wiener from 1984–2005 until she gifted it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005, upon which it was given Accession Number: 2005.512.  

This 10th - 11th century CE copper Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara Seated in Royal Ease. It was given Accession Number: 1992.336 when it was purchased directly from Douglas Latchford using funds from the Annenberg Foundation Gift. 

This 11th century sandstone Standing Female Deity, (probably Uma), Accession Number: 1983.14 was sold by Douglas Latchford to Spink & Son Ltd., London,  who in turn sold it onward to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

This 10th century sandstone Standing Female Deity, which was given Accession Number: 2003.605. This artefact was purportedly with Doris Wiener from 1998 through 2003.  Various saved accession record dates show it was either donated to the Metropolitan by Doris Wiener, in honour of Martin Lerner or was purchased through this New York dealer. 

This partially fragmented 930 - 960 CE  bronze Face from a Male Deitycame to the museum via a Latchford donation in honour of Martin Lerner.   It was given Accession Number: 1998.320a–f.

This ca. 920–50 CE stone Head of a Buddha, was also donated to the museum by Douglas Latchford in 1983 (with no provenance listed), where it was given Accession Number: 1983.551. 

This 10th century, Angkor period bronze Head of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion was in circulation with Spink & Son Ltd., London until 1998, when it was then sold to an undisclosed private collector who donated the artefact to the Metropolitan the same year, and was given Accession Number: 1998.322.

This 11th century, Angkor period, bronze Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion)  This bodhisattva is often depicted with multiple heads and arms symbolising his limitless capacity to help alleviate grievances and is venerated as the ideal of karuna, the willingness to bear the pain of others.  Given Accession Number: 1999.262, the statue was directly purchased by the museum from Douglas Latchford via funds from Friends of Asian Art Gifts, Cynthia Hazen Polsky Gift, and Josephine L. Berger-Nadler and Dr. M. Leon Canick Gift. 

This 11th century architectural Lintel with Shiva on NandiAccession Number: 1996.473. This doorway topping was previously purchased in 1993 by Steven M. Kossak, owner of the prominent "Kronos Collections", who then loaned the piece to the Met for three years before eventually donating it to the museum in 1996. 

This late 9th century, stone Angkor period, Khmer style of Bakong, Headless Female Figure, Accession Number: 2003.592.1, is said to have been in the possession of Latchford's friend, Alexander Götz.  Originally living in Bali, then for a time in Germany, Götz and his family moved to London in 1990 where he opened a gallery specialising in Southeast Asian art, with Indonesia as the main focus. He closed his London gallery in 2015 and has since moved back to Indonesia.

This late 12th century, stone Angkor period, Standing Eight-Armed Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion. Given Accession Number: 2002.477, this stature was sold by Douglas Latchford to Jeffrey B. Soref, heir to the Master Lock fortune, who sits on the Board of Directors at the Metropolitan.  Soref in turn loaned his purchase to the Met from 1999–2002 before gifting it to the museum in 2002.  Authorities in Cambodia had received information from a reformed looter named Toek Tik, who admitted to personally stealing this, as well as other artworks from Cambodia over a span of 20 years during his time as a smuggler.

This 7th–8th century, bronze pre-Angkor period, Ardhanarishvara (Composite of Shiva and Parvati), depicts the god as half male and half female representing the Shakta as worshipper and Shakti as devotee relationship which gives the Ardhanarishvara male and female characteristics.  Assigned Accession Number: 1993.387.4 the female side of this sculpture depicts Parvati’s elegant hairstyle and flowing skirt and exposed breast, while the male side gives us half of Shiva’s moustache, as well as his third eye.  Originally, the public accession record listed only the donation of this object as coming from Enid A. Haup (who had purchased and donated another problematic piece).  The more recent the Met's record was updated to state that the statue was sold by Spink & Son Ltd., London to Haupt who gifted it to the Met in 1993.

This 9th century, stone Angkor period depicting the Head of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Given Accession Number: 1997.434.1, it was previously owned by American pipeline billionaire George Lyle Lindemann, a collector who frequently bought Khmer artefacts from individuals, some of whom were later implicated in the trade and trafficking of Cambodia's cultural heritage.  Lindemann gifted the object to the Met in 1997, who listed the object with no prior provenance, aside from the name of the wealthy donor.

This 11th century, sandstone Angkor period, Male Deity, probably Shiva.  Depicted with four-arms and a high chignon of jatamukuta, wearing a pleated sampot, this statue was given Accession Number: 1987.414.  The Met's website listed that the statue as previously owned by Margery and Harry Kahn who gifted the object to the Met in 1987 and that the statue "likely formed the centerpiece of a triad in a chapel of an unidentified temple in the vicinity of Angkor Thom.  Its style relates to sculptures recorded from the Baphuon temple, a monumental step-pyramid dedicated to Shiva, built as the state temple by King Udayadityavarman II."

The Artefacts Returning to Thailand are:

This 11th century Gilt-copper alloy, with silver inlay, possibly miss-named statue of a Standing Shivais believed to be the most complete extant gilded-bronze image from Angkor.  Given Accession Number: 1988.355, it belongs to a small group of metal sculptures of Hindu deities associated with royal cult practices that were discovered in Khmer territories including Cambodia and northeastern Thailand.  The statue was purchased by Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg via Spink & Son Ltd., London in 1988 and donated that same year to the Met. 

This 11th century bronze inlayed with silver and traces of gold statue of a Kneeling Female Figure, perhaps a Khmer queen, who kneels in a posture of adoration with arms raised above her head and palms pressed together.  Given Accession Number: 1972.147, she was sold to the museum by Doris Wiener. 

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the return of 16 Khmer sculptures to Cambodia and Thailand known to be associated with Douglas Latchford with great fanfare on "X" the social media site formally known as twitter it stated that :

"Every one of the 1.5 million objects in our collection has a unique history, and part of the Museum’s mission is to tell these stories. When, how, and where was it created? Who made it and why? What was going on at that time and place in history? The Met also examines the ownership history or provenance: where has the object been and in whose care?" 

and that through research, transparency, and collaboration, the museum was committed to responsible collecting and goes to great lengths to ensure that all objects entering the collection meet its strict standards. 

ARCA would like to underscore that it took the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2013, when the “Kneeling Attendants” were first relinquished to Cambodia, through the Nancy Weiner and Douglas Latchford's respective indictments of 2016 and 2019, alongside numerous gentle, and then more insistent requests by Cambodia, as well as the continued campaigning of heritage activist groups before the museum moved forward with their restitution on Friday, a decade later.

It is worth remembering that there is an imperative need for justice and ethical stewardship by institutions responsible for the world's cultural heritage and it should not take ten years for a museum, the size and scope of the Metropolitan to do-the-right-thing.  Prolonged processes only contribute to the perpetuation of injustice and swift restitution is essential for rectifying historical wrongs, fostering international cooperation, and preserving the cultural identity of affected communities. Lengthy delays such as this one serve to exacerbate diplomatic, as well as cultural, tensions and perpetuate a sense of cultural entitlement on the part of certain western museums. 

When illicitly acquired objects are identified in a museum's collection, expedient restitution processes are the litmus test which, in ARCA's eyes, truly serve to demonstrate a museum's genuine commitment to holding themselves accountable to their past acquisitions.  When doing so, they foster goodwill among the claimants,  and serve as a positive example which in turn amplifies and reinforces the importance of respecting rightful ownership when it comes to cultural treasures. 

To end on a positive note, ARCA is pleased to see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken a step forward in its documentation protocols and has elected to leave the accession records for these relinquished objects online and visible to the public with notations of "Deaccessioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art for return to the Kingdom of Cambodia, 2023 or Deaccessioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art for return to the Kingdom of Thailand, 2023."  This action promotes transparency and accountability in the global effort to combat the illicit trade of cultural artefacts.

One small step for a single museum, one giant leap for museum archival documentation. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

December 11, 2023

Preserve the Past, Shape the Future: ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is now accepting applications

Who studies art crime?

ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is now accepting applications.

General applications will be accepted through 15 January 2024 subject to census limitations.

In 2009, ARCA started the very first interdisciplinary program to study art crimes holistically.

The first of its kind, the summer, study-abroad programme was designed to give participants a unique opportunity to train intensively, in a structured and academically diverse format.  Drawing on experts from around the globe, we designed the curriculum centering upon the the study of the dynamics, strategies, objectives and modus operandi of criminals and criminal organisations who commit a variety of art  related crimes.  

Turn on the news (or follow this blog) and you will see over and over again examples of museum thefts, forgeries, antiquities looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods.  Intentional heritage destruction and religion-based iconoclasm during armed conflict, once a modern-day rarity, has affected multiple countries and adds to regional instability in many areas of the globe.

Looted art, both ancient and Holocaust-related, can and often does find its way into the world's premiere auction houses and the galleries of respected museum institutions, while dealers working in the field continue to be less than adept at distinguishing smuggled and stolen art from art with a legitimately clean provenance. Thus making dealing with art crime an unrelenting problem and one without any easy solution.

Taken incident by incident, it is difficult to see the impact and implications of art crime as a global concern, but when studied across disciplines, looking at the gaps of legal instruments, country to country, one begins to have a clearer picture of the significance of the problem and its impact on the world's collective patrimony.

The world's cultural heritage is an invaluable legacy and its protection is integral to our future. 

One summer, eleven courses.

At its foundation, ARCA's summer-long program in Italy draws upon the overlapping and complementary expertise of international thought-leaders on the topic of art crime – all practitioners and leading scholars who actively work in the sector. 

In 2024, participants of the program will receive 220+ hours of instruction over 11 courses taught by a range of experts actively committed to combatting art crime from a variety of different angles.

For more information on the summer 2024 postgraduate professional development program, please see ARCA's website here. 

To request further information or to receive a 2024 prospectus and application materials, please email:
education (at)

Interested in learning more about the program?  

Write to us for an invite to attend our December 17th Zoom Q&A session at 8 pm (GMT+1).

December 10, 2023

Acquittal and Mental Health Intervention: US Citizen Behind Israel Museum Vandalism Case

In an unusual court ruling, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court has acquitted forty-year-old Stephen Edward Porth, the American citizen from California who made headlines on October 5, 2023, for shattering two ancient artefacts at the Israel Museum.

Porth, who had traveled from the United States, was detained by museum security personnel and later police after intentionally knocking over a 201-211 CE Roman marble statue of a Griffon and a marble head of the goddess Athena from the Roman period. Both artefacts were housed in the classical archaeology section of the National Museum, showcasing statues from the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.

Security cameras captured footage of the incident, revealing Porth, clad in religiously conservative clothing, shouting, "You can’t have idols; it’s in the second commandment," a reference to the Book of Exodus in the Bible. Attempting to flee, he was apprehended by security guards and subsequently taken into custody by the police.

During his interrogation, Porth confessed to the acts of vandalism, and is stated to have expressed no remorse. He asserted that the statues contradicted his religious faith, deeming them "statues of idolatry, contrary to the laws of the Torah." The estimated damage totalled $1 million.

Intaking Perth to court, prosecutors allege the vandal acted cunningly and premeditatedly, choosing closing time to minimise the crowd. While police believed he intended to target more sculptures, his actions generated enough noise for museum staff to intervene.  Porth's lawyer, Nick Kaufman, countered the claims of religious fanaticism, attributing his client's actions to a mental disorder he referred to as Jerusalem syndrome, a disorder, characterised by disorientation induced by the religious magnetism of Jerusalem, which is said to lead foreign pilgrims to believe they are figures from the Bible.

Ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, Porth's identity was initially withheld due to a gag order in October when the incident was first reported. Held in custody for failing to meet bail requirements, his recent acquittal by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court is an unexpected turn. 

Instead of a prison sentence, Porth has been diverted to involuntary hospitalization for four years—a duration mirroring the maximum prison sentence for the attributed offense.  His case raises intricate questions about the intersection of religious convictions, mental health considerations, and the legal consequences of destructive actions, prompting reflection on the appropriate societal response to such incidents.

December 8, 2023

Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier and his former Russian client, oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev have settled their acrimonious business dispute

Image Credit: Anne-Gaëlle Amiot

Back in May 2013, Swiss businessman and freeport mogul, Yves Bouvier drew international interest when he negotiated a lower purchase price for the painting  “Salvator Mundi” (Savior of the World), attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, from the artwork's consortium's sellers.  After a short period of discussion, the businessman's offer of $83 million, via a privately brokered sale proposal, was accepted by the sellers.

This transaction was closed by Sotheby's rainmaker, Sam Valette, a senior director and vice-chairman of private sales for the auction house. Known for his ability to generate large sums of money closing deals with high profile clients who seek total discretion outside the auction hall, Valette also, on occasion, wrote assessments on artworks for Bouvier. 

As the Swiss art dealer was known to buy works of art from Sotheby’s in his own name in furtherance of his art sales business. Valette purportedly was not aware of who Bouvier intended to sell the painting to.  This suggested that as far as the auction house was concerned, Bouvier was not, in this instance, to their specific knowledge, acting as an agent for any buyer in particular when the Da Vinci transaction was finalised.

Immediately after purchasing “Salvator Mundi”, Bouvier flipped the oil painting to his then long-standing client, Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian oligarch whose fortune was built from his interests in Uralkali, one of the world's leading producers of potash fertiliser and one of Russia's largest chemical companies.  Bouvier sold the Christ painting to the Russian for $127.5 million, $44 million more than he had purchased it for.

But by March 2015 Rybolovlev had filed a series of lawsuits against Bouvier in two countries: Hong Kong and Singapore, where he had begin accusing his former business associate of swindling him out of nearly $1 billion via the sale of some 38 works of art for 2.2 billion Swiss francs ($2.5 billion) in total.  During that period, Rybolovlev's legal team succeeded in obtaining a “Mareva injunction”, a legal procedure authorising the near-instantaneous freezing of Yves Bouvier’s worldwide assets.  He followed those up in 2017 and 2019 by filing two complaints in Geneva, Switzerland against Bouvier and his alleged “accomplices for gang fraud and money laundering.

While the legal feud was still in full swing,  the oligarch sold “Salvator at Christie's to Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud in November 2017 for $450.3 million.  Shortly thereafter when the buyer was announced, news reports declared that the painting would be publicly displayed on September 18, 2018, at the newly opened Louvre in Abu Dhabi.  But that never happened. 

By December 2019 Dmitry Rybolovlev long-running legal battle with the art dealer had begun to seriously fizzle. First, before the Monaco appeals court, after he himself was charged in relation to a probe into influence peddling and corruption  involving Monegasque government officials, and allegedly justice minister, Laurent Anselmi who resigned during the scandal. Then things went quiet, with both sides apparently in private negotiations, working towards a settlement.  

On November 20th the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Geneva was informed that Rybolovlev and Bouvier had formally buried the hatchet and according to their respective lawyers, the pair were no longer at logger heads regarding their past business dealings.  

Having reaching an undisclosed agreement, which included the withdrawal of all complaints launched by Yves Bouvier and Dmitry Rybolovlev, as well as those concerning Tania Rappo and Tetiana Bersheda, the former lawyer of the Russian billionaire and a settlement agreeing that the civil case against Bouvier in Singapore will also be terminated "the parties requested that no further action be taken in the criminal proceedings and indicated that they would not be opposed to the case being closed.”  

"The Public Prosecutor's Office closed the procedure for the first time on September 15, 2021 on the grounds that the elements constituting the offences had not been fulfilled and that a procedure, relating to the same facts, had been carried out in Monaco. "

"In a ruling dated 26 July 2022, the Criminal Appeal Division of the Court of Justice overturned this decision and referred the case back to the Public Prosecutor's Office to resume the investigation. Following this ruling, the Public Prosecutor's Office conducted a number of hearings, which did not provide any evidence to raise sufficient suspicion against the defendants."

The prosecution does require Bouvier to pay 100,000 Swiss francs in court costs.

December 6, 2023

New York Authorities return 41 smuggled historical artefacts, dating from the 7th century BCE to the 7th century CE to Turkey

Yesterday a ceremony was held with officials from the Consulate General of the Republic of Turkey in New York, where H.E. Gökhan Yazgı, Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism for the country received back 41 smuggled historical artefacts, dating from the 7th century BCE  to the 7th century CE recovered based on investigations conducted in New York by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit attached to the New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - Homeland Security Investigations division

Video Credit: Consulate General of the Republic of Turkey

The works returned and exhibited at the New York Turkish House include:

The heads of 22 delicate Anatolian marble idols of the Kiliya type from the Chalcolithic period.

Intact and fragmented bronze sculptures, including two Heads of the Roman emperor Caracalla and the Bust of a Lady, which had been looted from Boubon, the ancient region known as the Cibyratis some 20 km south of Gölhisar, near the village İbecik in the Turkish province of Burdu.  This site was extensively looted in the 1960s.

The two heads—one depicting a younger Caracalla previously held in the collection of the Fordham Museum of Art and the other featuring an older Caracalla from the Metropolitan Museum of Art had been confiscated in March 2023. 

According to investigations conducted at the New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan, the 160-180 CE Bust of a Lady was initially removed from Boubon and later transported to Switzerland via the now-deceased American antiquities dealer, Robert Hecht, where it was later purchased by the Worcester Art Museum, where it was exhibited until its confiscation in June 2023.

Some of these pieces had been in circulation via Jerome Eisenberg of Royal Athena Gallery and Michael L. Ward of Michael Ward & Co.

Other objects returned include various terracotta vessels, marble statuettes, and ancient armour.

Turkey's Deputy Minister of Culture and Tourism Gökhan Yazgı thanked the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and its team as well as HSI-ICE for cooperating with Turkish institutions in the recovery of these artefacts, emphasising these returns were the fruits of  a “hard-working and dedicated team” within the relevant institutions of the two countries, collaborating for 5 years, which has resulted in the return of these cultural assets. 

Image and Video Credits: Fatih Aktaş - Anadolu Agency

December 3, 2023

Claiming Legacies: Italy, Germany, and the Post-WWII Ownership Battle for the Discobolus

Image Credit: Exhibition Arte Liberata 1937-1947: Masterpieces Saved from War.

This past week Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper stirred up a long-standing dispute between Italy's National Roman Museum and Germany's Antikensammlungen state antiquities collection regarding who is the rightful owner of the Discobolus Lancellotti, also known as the Discobolus Palombara.  Frozen in a moment of dynamic tension, much like the ownership debate, the marble depiction of an athlete stands as a remarkable example of the classical aesthetics that characterised the ancient world. 

Believed to be a 2nd Century CE marble copy modelled after the original bronze Greek masterpiece created by Myron of Eleutherae around 450 BCE, the Roman version has endured through the centuries and offers its viewers a fascinating glimpse into the Roman's appreciation for the athletes and artistry of the Greeks, as well as the contentious nature of provenance.  The statue depicts the sportsman frozen in a moment of athletic intensity, poised like a coiled spring wound in high tension, to intricately render the disk thrower's musculature and balance. 

The anatomy of the discobolus,
as drawn by the talented @PaulCarneyArts

Rediscovered on the Esquiline Hill in Rome on March 14, 1781 during an excavation carried out by workmen working for the Marquise Barbara Savelli Palombara (1750–1826) and her husband Papal postmaster Camillo Francesco Massimo (1730–1801), the statue was unearthed on the grounds of the 17th century Villa Palombara sull'Esquilino.  There, the accidental archaeology of the diggers unearthed what would turn out to be an extraordinary collection of ancient artistic masterpieces, only one of which was the life-size, 156 centimetre-tall Discobolus.  

The ancient Villa Palombara in a map engraved by
Giovanni Battista Falda (1676).

Initially cleaned in the 18th century by Giuseppe Angelini, it was Italian soon-to-be  archaeologists Giovanni Battista Visconti and Filippo Waquier De La Barthe who first published on the the marble sculpture as a Roma copy of Muron's bronze original in 1801, augmenting their research with an illustration by Carlo Fea. 

Depicting an athlete who competed in Greek agones (athletic competitions), the sculpture's popularity became uniquely recognisable, even to non art historians.  Its discovery also provided us with a fascinating glimpse into the artistic preferences and lavish lifestyles of ancient Rome's elites, and marked a seminal moment in what we now know and understand about artistic preferences in the classical period.   

Having reattached his right arm and left foot, the Discobolus sculpture was taken by the Massimo (later Lancellotti) family to Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, the site of the family's ancestral properties, located on Via Papalis (now Corso Vittorio Emanuele II).  There it was given its own private viewing room on the palazzo's piano nobile or main floor.  Later, it would it be installed by Prince Filippo Massimo Lancellotti and Princess Elisabetta Borghese Aldobrandini at the Palazzo Massimo Lancellotti.

By January 1937 the Lancellotti family was actively shopping the sculpture for a new owner.  Following the 25 January 1937 death of Princess Elisabetta Borghese Aldobrandini, we can document a 29 January 1937 letter written by Gisela Richter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art's director, Herbert E. Winlock, where the US museum director was alerted to the fact that the Discobolus had been shopped by “the very difficult old lady at the head of the house” to foreign museums. 

Yet despite the Met's rather healthy and hastily-gathered purchase budget, capped at $300,000 including export fees, and with Joseph Brummer acting as the museum's purchasing agent through Roman antiquities’ dealers, Ettore and Augusto Jandolo, the Met moved too slowly and the marble sculpture was sold to the German state.  As a consolation prize, the Met was still able to acquire a marquetry studiolo from Federico da Montefeltro’s palace in Gubbio which was sold by the Lancellotti family in 1937 to Adolph (Adolpho) Loewi, a German-Jewish art and antiquities dealer who flipped the piece to the Met before leaving Italy in 1939. 

Germany's fascination with the Discobolus 

Even before its purchase, the discobolus was firmly cemented in the hearts of Germans.  More so when held up as the ideal in the rhetoric, propaganda, art, and architecture of National Socialism.  This fascination can be seen in the evocative prologue of the 1936 film directed by Leni Riefenstahl Olympia – Festival of Nations which documented that summer's Olympics, held in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin during the Nazi period. 

Released in Germany on Hitler’s birthday on 20 April 1938, one month shy of the Nazis’ purchase of the statue, the film begins with a fanciful recreation of the ruins of the Acropolis of Athens, focusing in, with short clips, on a varying group of Greek statues before the montage concludes with a clearer image of the Discobolus as it gradually morphs into the ideal German athlete, Erwin Huber, who competed in the men's decathlon. His transformation was meant to illustrate the 'Vigour and beauty' of ancient Greece reborn in the athleticism and perfect physical form of modern Germany.

But back to the sale of the Discobolus

Bear in mind that in 1937 when Adolf Hitler first expressed interest in the Discobolus, Italy's cultural property was already protected by Law No. 364/1909, commonly referred to as the 'Rosadi-Rava Law.  This law, approved by the Italian parliament, stated that when a good owned by an individual or a private entity is classified as cultural property, the owner remained under an obligation to preserve its integrity (Article 20(1)(a) of the CHC). Furthermore, an authorisation by the Ministry of Education was required before such objects could be moved from their current location, for example, for a showing at an exhibition (Article 20(1)(b) of the CHC)3 or for restoration (Article 20(4) of the CHC).  

In the case of sale, a privately owned antiquity, classified as cultural property, might be sold, but the seller has an obligation to notify the contract to the Italian State within 30 days of the date of the sale.  In case of sale, the State has a pre-emption right, to be exercised within 60 days of the date of receipt of the sale notice (Article 59 of the CHC), all this to say that cultural property of a historic interest to the stated should not have been exported from the national territory on a permanent basis. 

Despite this, Benito Mussolini forced the hand of his then-Minister of Education, Giuseppe Bottai, by tacitly approving an export waiver to Adolf Hitler and not stepping in to deny the statue's export. On 18 May 1938 Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son in law and the Foreign Minister of Fascist Italy from 1936 to 1943, completed the sales transaction for the Discobolus.  The selling price was five million lire, ($252,000, as calculated later by the US Office of Military Government [OMGUS]), paid out over the protests of Giuseppe Bottai, Minister of Education, and the scholarly community. The German government then paid an additional 1,485,000 lire in export tax to complete the acquisition. 

On 29 June 1938 the Discobolus was shipped by train to Germany and was put on display at the Munich Glyptothek, with Hitler in attendance for its opening premiere on by 10 July 1938.  Some say Hitler opted for the Munich museum over the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin as a technique of oneupmanship.  One hundred years earlier, Ludwig I, the King of Bavaria, had sought to purchase the famous statue for his own collections. 

Adolf Hitler in the Munich Glyptothek with the Lancellotti Discobolus,
10 July 1938 - Image Credit US Library of Congress

The Lancellotti Discobolus then spent a decade in Germany, enduring the tumultuous period of World War II and escaping the heavy damage to the Glyptothek in the summer of 1944, when the museum was badly hit by Allied bombing raids. Thankfully, the bulk of the Glyptothek collection of sculptures and works of art had previously been brought to safety in monasteries. What had to be left behind, and not immediately destroyed by the bombing, suffered severe damage in the waning years before its restoration, as the cultural heritage institution was left without a roof. 

The remains of the Roman Hall of the Munich Glyptothek in 1945
After the war, the Discobolus was ordered to be returned to Italy, as part of a broader repatriation effort termed the “Exceptional Return of Works of Art” by Allied authorities.  Rodolfo Siviero, Italy's postwar representative dedicated to repatriating art taken from the country since 1937, was known to have played a pivotal role in advocating for the return of the marble statue and other contentious works of art. These pieces, all acquired by the National Socialist government, were contested on the grounds that the export permits were illegal, and in violation of the law of 1909. 

But the return of the Discobolus was not without its controversies. On Germany's side, letters of protest were sent to the U.S. Secretary of State, as well as to President Truman.  One of these was signed by thirty-six German staff members working at the Munich Central Collecting Point (CCP).  Another letter of protest, organised by a professor at the University of Munich, was signed by eighty-eight German officials.  

Calls for the decision's repeal were subsequently directed to the colonial authority known as the Office of Military Government, United States, (OMGUS) in Berlin and ultimately culminated in the resignation of Herbert S. Leonard, in November 1948, from his position as director of the Munich Central Collecting Point (CCP).  Leonard having resigned in opposition to OMGUS's fixed decision to return seventeen paintings and the sculpture to the Italian government.

The Italian authorities have always maintained that the collection was seized by Fascist leaders and gifted to the Nazis. While Leonard and others working on the provenance of objects held at the collecting point pointed to the fact that sculpture had been purchased by Nazi Germany in 1938 after Mussolini declared an "axis" between Germany and Italy on 1 November 1936 and prior to the start of World War II on 31 August 1939 and was therefore not an under duress sale.

Once back in Italy, in 1948, the Discobolus became part of the collection of the National Roman Museum at Palazzo Massimo.  More recently it has been part of an exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale titled Arte Liberata 1937-1947: Capolavori Salvati dalla Guerra dedicated to the theme of cultural heritage at risk during World War II.  Afterwards, following a major reorganisation which is anticipated to take three years, the statue is expected to be moved permanently to Palazzo Altemps, close to Piazza Navona.   As for whose property the statue is, well I will leave that debate to the lawyers. 

By: Lynda Albertson

November 27, 2023

Marking the return of 12 pieces to Libya recovered from Spanish gallerist Jaume Bagot of J. Bagot Arqueología

Image Credit: Archaeology IN - Libya

Following the order of the Central Court of Investigation number 6 of Madrid on 24 November 2023, it was announced last week that Spain had provisionally delivered a grouping of antiquities including four marble sculptures and eight mosaics, recovered during Operación Harmakis to the Libyan authorities at the country's  embassy in Spain.  

Hardly covered in the English speaking press, the pieces were formally transferred at a ceremony held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Madrid, the pieces were delivered to Mohamed Alfaloos, the general director of Museums and Archeology of Libya, and representatives of the ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs.  Seized during investigations conducted by Spain's law enforcement authorities, each of the artefacts has been earmarked by the Court as having been looted in the North African country, coming from Balagrae (modern day al-Bayda), Apollonia (modern day Marsa-Susa), and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cyrene (near modern day Shahhat).   They will remain at the Libyan embassy in Madrid, in the custody of the Libyan ambassador to Spain, Walid Abu Abdulla, as per the court's ruling, until the legal case surrounding them has concluded. 

The recovery of these artefacts dates back to late March 2018, when, after three years of investigations involving some fifty law enforcement officers, including the Spanish Policía Nacional, the UDEV Central de la Comisaría General de Policía Judicial and the UCIE de la Comisaría General de Información formal charges were brought against ancient art dealer Jaume Bagot and his partner Oriol Carreras Palomar.  During which, the pair were taken into custody under suspicion for their alleged participation in a crime of financing terrorism, belonging to a criminal organisation, concealment of contraband and use of forgery for their roles in facilitating the sale of illicit antiquities.

During the 2018 Harmakis action, five property searches were conducted, three in Barcelona and two in Argentona, with police inspecting a restoration studio, a deposit/warehouse where the artworks were stored, Bagot's residence and his Barcelona art gallery and the home of Oriol Carreras Palomar.  During the execution of these search warrants, artefacts from multiple countries and circulation documentation were retained by police as evidence in a criminal investigation. 

On March 28th of that same year, the Policía Nacional in Barcelona released a video which depicts part of the searches in which some of the objects sequestered during their investigation can be identified. In this opensource video, some of the mosaics handed over to the Libyan authorities can be seen beginning at 0.38 seconds into the video.  In addition, the marble head of Demeter is depicted from 0.58 until its boxing at 1.11 and the Roman togatus can be seen at 1.19. 

Answering to the charges in Spain, Jaume Bagot and Oriel Carreras appeared before Judicial Magistrate Diego de Egea of the Central Court of Instruction Number 6 of the National Court on March 26, 2018 where each were formally informed of the allegations and charges pending against them.  During the hearing the magistrate granted both men release pending trial, while imposing a financial surety (bond) of €12000 and a series of pretrial release conditions which include the forfeiture of their passports, a mandate to remain within the territory of Spain, and biweekly court appearances as conditions of their release while awaiting trial.

Standing by the all too familiar, I didn't know approach, which has, for so long, contributed to some of the challenges of prosecuting individuals for the illegal trafficking of cultural objects,  Bagot pleaded his innocence in handling blood antiquities in an March 30, 2018 interview with Crónica Global Media.  When asked the carefully-worded question --Do you claim not to have bought any objects from sellers in Iraq, Libya or Syria?  The Spanish dealer responds cleverly:

Never in life. What they intend in the Civil Guard report - to which I have not had access because it is confidential - is to make the judge see that I transported these objects or that I was in charge, through third parties, of moving them from a country. in a conflict zone to another country where there is legality to buy them legally in order to justify the operation.

The police say that I have expressly arranged to buy an object in Libya, take it to Dubai and sell it in Spain. But this is not the case, I don't know any people from Libya, nor do I have any contacts in Libya or anything.

What the Barcelona dealer failed to acknowledge in his interview was that he has bought artefacts coming from conflict and post conflict countries, via intermediary sellers, in multiple countries, who are known for brokering the sales of ancient objects from countries plagued with political and civil upheaval including, in this case, funerary sculptures of Cyrene in Libya.  This demonstartes, once again, that the routes laundered "blood antiquities" travel can be circuitous and that the international flow patterns conflict, and post conflict, antiquities travel often involve intermediary countries with willing middlemen.  This allows bad acting dealers in market country galleries to profess their purchases to these third-parties were made in good faith.  That is, until officers leading investigations gather evidence which proves definitively otherwise. 

Let's not forget that the 10th section of the Rome court in Italy sentenced Jaume Peix Bagot to 4.5 years of incarceration for his handling & laundering of the second-century headless Roman sculpture depicting the Muse Calliope which had been stolen from actor Roberto Benigni's villa in 2010.  That sculpture was identified in Spain with the dealer in April 2019 and was identified as part of a multinational investigation conducted by the Spanish authorities and Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale who also recovered another sculpture in  the posession of another Spanish dealer that had been stolen from Villa Borghese.

ARCA would like to close this blog post with a reminder to its collecting readers that the market for illicit antiquities operates within the framework of basic economic principles, where the scarcity of authentic material and supply and demand dynamics play a pivotal role in incentivising the clandestine trade in ancient artefacts.  As the demand for antiquities by collectors, private investors, and museums increases, this buying power in turn stimulates profiteering individuals to acquire more and more material, sometimes sourcing artefacts through individuals who engage in, or turn a blind eye to, where, or who, a sellable object comes from.

Collectors of ancient art who acquire archaeological material without conducting thorough scrutiny of the sellers, especially when encountering seemingly too-good-to-be-true items like a Hellenistic Greek marble head from a war torn country, inadvertently fuel a perpetuating cycle of illegal activities. Unchecked acquisitions also contribute to the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites, posing a threat to the preservation of our historical record. 

A more conscientious approach involves diligent research into the provenance and legal status of what a collector or museum are purchasing, accompanied by a proactive "Know Your Seller" strategy. This not only shields the purchaser from potential legal complications but also plays a pivotal role in disrupting the demand side of the illicit supply chain for cultural goods, particularly antiquities from conflict-ridden regions. 

Responsible acquisition practices can and does empower collectors to contribute actively to the protection of global cultural heritage. By prioritising the preservation of our shared human history over profit, collectors wield significant influence in fostering an art market characterized by ethical values and a genuine commitment to cultural preservation.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 16, 2023

The Ephebes of Pedro Abad are on exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

After a complex period of study and years of delicate restoration to repair their fragile bodies, the Ephebes of Pedro Abad went on display this week at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. There, for the first time, the statues can be viewed as they were meant to be seen, standing on their own two feet, vertically.  Each of the recovered bronzes constitute a milestone in the study of ancient art originating during the Early Roman Empire from ancient Hispania.

Beautiful, as well as extremely rare, the journey of their recovery began in January 2012, when rumours began to circulate regarding the extraordinary discovery of two bronze statues representing pubescent male atheletes.  The sore spot being, the finders of the bronzes apparently had no intention of turning the ancient artefacts over to Spain's cultural authorities, as is required by law.  Instead, their handlers  were shopping the statues around, looking for potential buyers, preferably someone with deep pockets. 

Over the following months, officers in Spain assigned to the Jaén Provincial Judicial Police Brigade, the Policía Nacional, and the Guardia Civil, worked to trace the statues' handlers.  In an operation investigators code named Operación Bronce, law enforcement agents sifted through dead ends and leads, and were eventually able to trace the handler's occupation to that of a transporter.  That in turn lead to finding where he lived in the country.

Through tapped phones detectives were next able to identify and geolocate several other Spanish intermediaries, men who resided in Jaén and Lora del Rio, who spoke with the possessors and who had the contacts necessary to fence material farther up the ancient art supply chain.  Officers learned of a plot to sell the statues for €3million a piece, to an Italian buyer who was believed to have the money, the means, and the black market network necessary to launder illicit antiquities, both big and small, through upscale channels within the lucrative ancient art market.  

When the Italian began preparing to come to Spain, the police knew they needed to act quickly.  When enough evidence of a crime had been established, agents made a requests to the ruling judge to search three properties, two, a home in Cordoba and a home in Pedro Abad for evidence, and a third, where they suspected the bronze statues were likely stored.  

On March 21, 2012 agents from the Specialised and Violent Crime Unit ( UDEV ) of the Jaén Provincial Judicial Police Brigade conducted  a strategically arranged raid on a property located on the El Palancar farm, located in the municipality of Pedro Abad (Córdoba).  There, the Apollonian and the Dionysian ephebes were located, stored in a bodega, carelessly wrapped, like Egyptian mummies in simple white paper.  

But the two ancient boys had seen much better days.  Unwrapped by police, the ephebe were a torturous mess of mangled and missing body parts.  One had his head and genitals lopped off, and both had violently suffered amputated arms and broken hands.  Like victims of some terrible accident, in addition to the decapitation, when spread out on the ground, officers could see a gaping gash on one of the statue's legs and a deep and penetrating wound to one of the boy's abdomen.  

But even in their wreaked and plundered state, still caked in soil and encrustations, it was easy to see that the bronzes were important, depicting beautiful sculpted nudes which reflected idealised body proportions and athleticism.  Based on their decorative characteristics and postures, the bronzes appeared to be "silent servants," or what Homer and Lucretius called golden boys, decorative statues designed by their creators to be a representation of an actual servant, whose primary purpose was to carry lamps or trays on their outstretched arms.  Symbolic as well as decorative, statues such as these have been found in triclinium, the banquet rooms of important Roman villas.  

Functional as well as beautiful, these types of bronzes are thought to have provided ancient diners with fanciful attendants who tended to their needs, but who never tired.  For Spain, the recovered pair have incalculable historical, archaeological and artistic value.  Aside from these two, there is only one other known ephebe recorded as having been found in Spain.  All three originate in Andalusia in the southernmost tip of the country.  And all three come from sites located within a radius of about 100 kilometres" from one another (he third being found in Antequera).  Each ephebe comes from archaeological sites which dot the Roman Bética route in ancient Hispania. 

How rare is rare?

In total, the number of bronze statues representing ephebe which have survived through history, can be counted on less than ten fingers. To understand their rarity, it's enough to consider were some of the other bronze "servants" are housed.  The Apollo of Lillebonne is located in the Musée du Louvre, while the Young Man of Magdalensberg resides in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Statue of an ephebe from the Bay of Marathon is at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.  

The Idolino is on display at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Firenze and farther south in Italy, another bronze of this type was recovered during excavations at the House of the Citharist in Pompeii.  That one became part of the collection of the Museo Nazionale Archeologico in Naples and seventy-five years after his discovery, in 1925, Amedeo Maiuri excavated another, less than two blocks away on the Via dell’Abbondanza.

But what happened to the would-be smugglers?

On 19 September 2018 at the Juzgado de Primera Instancia nº 1, the Court of First Instance, in Córdoba, the defence and the prosecution reached an agreement resulting in the two brothers from Pedro Abad first charged with the alleged commission of an attempted smuggling, pleading guilty to the misappropriation of historical heritage assets.  The pair received a a lighter prison sentence of six months, instead of the potential two years and two months requested earlier by the prosecutors, had their case gone to trial.  By pleading out to the lessor charge, the pair also avoided potentially high fines, in the millions. 

And the statues?

After their recovery, the Apolíneo and Dionisíaco ephebes were carefully studied. Archaeologists determined that the Roman bronze sculptures were ascribable to the High Imperial era (1st-2nd century CE), and were copies of Greek originals from the 5th century BC or works inspired by these.  In May 2019 the ephebes were each approved to register in the General Catalog of Andalusian Historical Heritage (CGPHA) as an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC), declared BIC by the Governing Council.  Humorously, they are listed in the category of Furniture. 

Following information obtained from the investigation, it was determined that the statues were found together, which is unique in and of itself, near a bend in the Guadalquivir river (the ancient Baetis).  There they would have been part of the decoration of a Roman villa located near the ancient Roman city of Sacili Martialium, identified within the zone of Alcurrucén near the Via Augusta in the municipality of Pedro Abad. 

Due to their extensive damage, the Ephebes of Pedro Abad underwent two and a half years of delicate and lengthy conservation at the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage (IAPH) to ensure their formal integrity.  

Gammographic studies were carried out which provided information about the condition of the statues allowing conservators to understand and observe key aspects that are not visible in direct observation, without the need to manipulate or take samples. This played an important role in pre-intervention studies as it made it  possible to detect cracks, fissures, welds, and reinforcement plates.  Afterwards, the bronzes were fitted with internal structures and the bases needed to allow them to be displayed as they were always meant to be seen, vertically. 

Given the amount of work involved ARCA would like to congratulate everyone who have made this reality possible: from the detectives, to the conservators, to the archaeologists, to the curators, and the careful transporters.  Without them, these pieces might never have been returned to the people of Spain.  

The Ephebes of Pedro Abad will remain on exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía through March 4, 2024 within the framework of the official program of the Picasso Celebration 1973-2023.   Go see them for yourself if you get the chance.