Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Italian Police Seize $1 Million Worth of Antiquities From Roman Businessmen

Italian Police Seize $1 Million Worth of Antiquities from two Roman businessmen in the central Lazio region of Italy on Friday. Some of the objects dating back to the 4th century BC were recovered after being advertised for sale on Facebook (Naomi Rea, 'Italian Police Seize $1 Million Worth of Antiquities From Roman Businessmen' ArtNet News May 14, 2018).
Police had been tracking the financial activity of the two Roman businessmen over some time, they had allegedly been using large sums of money to buy artwork. One of the businessmen had a 'small  private museum' with ancient ceramics and large scale terracotta heads: a bull and a horse, which likely belong to a larger sculptural grouping. He had not followed the legal requirements in building such a collection dof reporting it to the relevant offices of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (Mibact).  Part of the investigation involved monitoring online activity, 'particularly a Facebook profile which police say was used to sell a fragment of a Roman column [from] the site of the ancient town of Ardea, 22 miles south of Rome'.
The seizure of the artifacts is part of a recent trend in the marketplace, which has seen a surge in the sale of looted artifacts online. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, 80 percent antiquities available online at any given moment have no recorded provenance—which means they are probably looted or fake. Two volatile factors are driving the spike: Unprecedented looting by ISIS across the Middle East has brought an avalanche of illicit objects into the marketplace. And novice collectors now have nearly unfettered access to un-vetted material as a result of the rapid growth of online outlets like Facebook, WhatsApp, eBay, and Amazon. 
The Artnet News reporter seems to have got a bit lost in the information forest. ISIL-looting is not the cause of any spike and online trading of antiquities has been going on since the mid-1990s  - so, more than two decades. What is important however is the continued carelessness about paperwork that allows looted, smuggled and false artefacts to enter the market, and one might expect (in the lack of clear evidence otherwise), even to dominate it.

By the way, look at that photo and its careful composition, note the way the silky covering of the stand on which the column is displayed at just-the-right-height for the composition is ruffled, the interplay between volumes and line. Even the female officer seems to have been chosen specifically for this photo.

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