Thursday, 28 May 2015

Dodgy Cultural property returned to Italy, False provenances, Garbled Paper Trails

Elisabetta Povoledo, '25 Looted Artifacts Return to Italy' May 26th 2015.
At first glance the 25 artifacts displayed in the courtyard of a former convent just off the Tiber River here on Tuesday seemed to have little in common: three first-century B.C. fresco fragments from Pompeii were exhibited alongside fifth- and sixth-century B.C. Etruscan and Attic vases, a 17th-century Venetian cannon, a 12th-century mural fragment depicting Christ and three rare 17th-century books. What they shared was a nefarious past. Each had been looted from Italy and smuggled into the United States in recent decades, only to be recovered from American museums, auction houses, private collections and even a university.
The articles were found in a number of regions of the USA, Homeland Security agents from New York City, Buffalo, Baltimore, Boston, Miami and San Diego were involved in the investigations leading to the returns.
Each artifact returned to Italy had its own story. The three first-century B.C. fresco fragments depicting human figures, for example, were stolen on June 26, 1957, from the Culture Ministry offices at Pompeii. Tracked to a San Diego warehouse, they were taken by agents in September 2012 from the private collection of an unnamed “American magnate” before they could be sold at auction, Italian officials said. The authorities later identified the frescoes as belonging to the Allen E. Paulson Trust, which forfeited them to the United States government, which then returned them to Italy.

An Etruscan black-figure vase with dolphins, dating to 510-500 B.C., was seized from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. The museum had acquired it in 1982 from Giacomo Medici, an international antiquities dealer. Mr. Medici had provided the museum with “false provenance documentation,” Italian officials said in a statement.

An Attic red-figure vase, acquired from Mr. Medici in 1983, was recovered from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which returned the piece once its illegal provenance was determined. Several artifacts were seized from auction houses and art galleries.

[...] no criminal charges had been filed regarding any of the returned artifacts. In some cases, the statute of limitations on any crimes would have expired. In others, the paper trail for an artifact’s import into the United States was too garbled to reconstruct.
Dealers and collectors seem remarkably prone to problems keeping those paper trails free of garbling and loss... A cynic might begin to suspect that there is some ulterior motive in this rather than just sheer carelessness and poor business practices.

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