Tuesday, 24 January 2012

More Antiquities Looted from Italy Leave the Hands of US Collectors and Dealers

There seem to be huge quantities of looted Classical antiquities in US hands. A January 20 press announcement by Italian authorities summarises recent results in the fight with unlawfully exported items in US hands. This time we learn of the return of more than 200 antiquities of various sizes from US museums, companies, collectors and dealers — all the product of illegal excavation or theft. The Chasing Aphrodite blog has a lengthy article on it.

The article discusses some of the returned objects. The two biggest items were statues relinquished by the health insurance provider Humana, which had stood apparently for over 20 years in the lobby of its Louisville headquarters. They illustrate very well the problem of stolen and looted artefacts being offered to uncritical buyers on the no-questions-asked market. The company had in good faith "acquired the statues in 1984 from a New York Gallery". It turns out on investigation that one of them, a first century marble statue, had been illegally excavated in Lazio, Italy and apparently had passed through the hands of the convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici. The other, a second century sculpture of Fortuna, had been stolen in October 1986 from an opera house in Rome.

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s former antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothner was known to have a large private collection of antiquities. Some of the vase fragments in his possession reportedly match vases already returned by American museums. The next batch of items returned recently was a group of forty pieces which the Met had obtained as "the property of a deceased private collector" which it is being reported had been a small part of this collection. What happened to the rest?

Of potentially greater significance was the third batch. This was reportedly of 170 objects and fragments returned by the Princeton University Art Museum. According to the Chasing Aphrodite blog these included:
an askos-shaped talus; two statues of women, including one playing a tambourine and the other a lyre; a white pithos with red figures representing animals; and 166 fragments from vases and architectural elements. The returns appear to be related to the investigation of Edoardo Almagià, the Princeton alum and antiquities dealer who, along with Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett, are targets of an investigation by Italian authorities.
As the Chasing Aphrodite bloggers explain, the release states that these objects:
“were identified in previous surveys conducted by the [Carabinieri] of the possessions of an Italian-American citizen, resident of New York, who has been the subject of the seizure of numerous archaeological finds, in New York and Rome, and copious documentation with photographic material pertaining to sales and loans made ​​by him.” These seized documents have allowed investigators to trace looted antiquities to prestigious American museums like the Met and Princeton, the release says, adding that the Carabinieri “have thus established, irrefutably, the origin of the objects from illicit excavations made ​​in Italy.”

The authors go on to remark that works that have passed through Almagia's hands have according to researchers also been traced to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Indiana University Art Museum.

In addition, New York antiquities dealer Jerome Eisenberg (he of Royal-Athena Gallery) has reportedly returned to Italy a bronze statue being sold for $22,500 known as the Venus of St. John Perareto, which he had bought from an unnamed dealer in Freiburg, Germany in 1982. This on further investigation turns out to have been stolen from a museum in Rimini in 1962.

As the authors note, in the hands of Italian authorities are now a series of archives of individuals involved in the antiquities trade. The Almagia Archive joins the "trove of documents, photographs and objects that Italian investigators have seized from antiquities dealers Robin Symes, Robert Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici". They raise the question of what to do with this vast amount of information about certain sectors of the antiquities trade.

Hat-Tip: David Gill

Vignette: The Pantheon and Pheonix, the badge of the Cultural Property Protection Carabinieri, Photo: Culture cop (nice uniform now I look at it, what's the hat-badge?)

1 comment:

David Gill said...

The story has its origins in a report that appeared in the New York Times in June 2010 - see here.

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