Showing posts with label giacomo medici. Show all posts
Showing posts with label giacomo medici. Show all posts

August 3, 2017

Opensource Reprint: Nekyia “A South Italian Bell-Krater by Python in the Metropolitan Museum of Art”

Given the recent interest in the July 31, 2017 article in the New York Times regarding the Python bell-krater depicting Dionysos with Thyros which was seized by New York authorities from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, ARCA has elected to publish Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis' original Journal of Art Crime article, in its entirety.

Originally published in the Spring 2014 edition of the Journal of Art Crime, ARCA's publication is produced twice per year and is available by subscription which helps to support the association's ongoing mission. Each edition of the JAC contains a mixture of peer-reviewed academic articles and editorials, from contributors authors knowledgeable in this sector.

We hope this article's publication will allow ARCA's regular blog readership and the general public to get a more comprehensive picture of this object's contentious origin.

Please note that Tsirogiannis' requested information from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on both the Bothmer's fund and the full collecting history of theis particular krater's recorded collection history on February 7, 2014, three years and five months before its present seizure by New York authorities.   While the researcher did not say, at the time, that the vase had been identified in the Medici archive, given the focus of Tsirogiannis' research, it is safe to assume that the museum should have had an idea why this particular researcher may have expressed an interest in the vase's provenance and its acquisition via the Bothmer Fund. 
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Nekyia
“A South Italian Bell-Krater by Python in the 
Metropolitan Museum of Art”

In five images from the Medici archive appears a Paestan bell-krater depicting Dionysos with Thyros and phials.  He is seated, along with a woman playing a double-flute with a bird on her lap, in a cart drawn by the god’s aged companion Papposilenos.  Above Papposilenos appears the bust of a woman with a thyrsos, separated from the rest of the scene by a wavy line. Between this bust and Papposilenos, in direct visual alignment with the end of the  flute played by the woman in the cart, appear the Greek letters *ΥΒΡΩΝ (*UBRŌN: the first letter is uncertain; only one roughly horizontal stroke survives, sloping slightly downward to the right at the level of the centre of the following Y). On the reverse side of the vase, two draped youths are depicted between palmettes identical to those that frame the main scene.

Four of the five Medici images are produced on regular photographic paper, and one is a Polaroid image. Two of the regular images are numbered in pen “4/50” and “4/51”, while the Polaroid is numbered “3/214”. The Polaroid image bears a handwritten note underneath: “H. cm 33,5 RΥΒΡΩΝ”. In all five images the krater is depicted intact, but half of the base and part of its rim are covered with soil or salt encrustations. The regular images present the krater standing on a dark red velvet surface. Also visible in these images is a creased brick-red paper stuck on a white surface leaning against the wall behind the vase; it seems that this is intended to complement the velvet base as a background.

The same south-Italian bell-krater surfaced at a Sotheby’s antiquities auction on June 23, 1989 in New York. The consigner of the krater was not named in the auction catalogue and the object was offered as lot 196, under the general title “Other Properties”. No previous collecting history of the vase was mentioned in the catalogue. The estimation price given was $50,000-80,000. The catalogue entry reads:
Paestan Red-Figure Bell Krater, circa 360-350 B.C., painted with a phlyax scene depicting Dionysos and a Maenad seated in a cart pulled by the satyr Papposilenos, the nickname “Hubris” in Greek above him, Dionysos seated and holding a phiale and thrysos [sic], the maenad playing the double-flute, a dove perched on her lap, Papposilenos’ hairy body indicated by white dots, and wearing red anklets and leopard-skin, the bust of a maenad  floating above holding a thrysos [sic], two draped youths in conversation on the reverse; details in added yellow, red, white, and brown wash. Diameter 14 1⁄2 in. (36.8 cm.) 

Attributed to Python. Cf. Mayo, Art of South Italy, no. 106, and Trendall, Red-figured Vases of Paestum, pls. 92, 98, c-f, 99, 100, c-d, 101, e-f, 105, e-f, 107, a-b; also cf. pl. 89, for a vase by Python where Papposilenos is given another appropriate nickname.

The painter Python, and his colleague and probable teacher Asteas, were the most influential of the Paestan vase painters. 

The object was sold for $90,000 (information received by email from Sotheby’s employee, Mr Andrew Gully on March 21, 2014).

Shortly after the Sotheby’s auction in New York, the vase became part of the antiquities collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (henceforth MET). It was given the accession number 1989.11.4. In the MET publication (Picon et al. 2007:239 no.184), the main scene on the obverse is described as follows:

The phlyax scene shows a youthful Dionysos, god of wine, and a flute-playing companion riding a wheeled couch. The draught is provided by an old silenos wearing a fleecy costume under a fawn skin. The inscription above his head reads “Hubris.” The drawing and polychromy, at once  fluent and disciplined, represent Python at his best.

The MET website records that the acquisition was possible due to the “Bothmer Purchase Fund”.

A Tainted Collecting History

Following my previous articles for JAC (Tsirogiannis 2013a-b, discussing antiquities which passed through the hands of Medici), I need not describe at length the implications of the first signifcant fact; the vase appears in the archive of the convicted dealer Giacomo Medici, and no earlier collecting history can be found. It is, however, worth here applying a point made in The Medici Conspiracy on p. 57: the conditions of the photographs themselves confirm that this vase is very likely to have been excavated illegally after 1970 (the date of the UNESCO Convention against illicit trade in antiquities). The bell-krater is photographed using Polaroid technology not commercially available until after 1972; the krater is situated not in its archaeological context with a measuring tool, but with soil encrustations, on an armchair; in the regular photographs, the vase appears against a background whose brick-red colour seems clumsily matched with the dark red velvet surface, the same surface on which Medici photographed several other antiquities which later proved to be illicit and were repatriated to Italy (e.g. the 20 red-figure plates attributed to the Bryn Mawr Painter, once offered to the Getty Museum: see Watson & Todeschini 2007:95-98, 205; Silver 2010:138-139, 143). It is profoundly clear that the bell-krater was not in a professional environment or treated in a professional way.

Sotheby’s does not disclose the names of the consigners or the buyers of objects, as the company stated when contacted in the recent past while I was researching other cases of antiquities lacking collecting history (Tsirogiannis 2013a:7). Mr. Andrew Gully stated in January 2013: “Sotheby’s does not disclose the names of consigners or buyers. In the future, please use that answer as your guide” (email on behalf of Mr. Richard Keresey, Sotheby’s International Senior Director and Senior Vice President, Antiquities). However, the association between Sotheby’s and Medici has been described at length by Watson (1998:183-193) and Watson & Todeschini (2007:27). The first book led to the permanent closure of four departments of Sotheby’s in London, including the antiquities department; the second provides a detailed image of the continuous business between Sotheby’s and Medici during the 1980s.

The MET has a long history of acquiring looted and smuggled antiquities after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The two most prominent cases were the Euphronios krater acquired in 1972 from the notorious dealer Robert Hecht during the directorship of Thomas Hoving, and the Morgantina treasure acquired in 1981, again from Hecht, during the directorship of Philippe de Montebello. On February 21, 2006, de Montebello signed an agreement in Rome to return both krater and treasure to Italy among 21 antiquities in total (Povoledo 2006). In January 2012, Italy announced the repatriation of c. 40 vase fragments from the MET; Fabio Isman revealed that the fragments matched vases already repatriated to Italy from North American museums, and noted that these fragments previously belonged to the private collection, kept in the MET, of the museum’s antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer (Italian Ministry of Culture 2012; Isman 2012).

This collection came to prominence again in 2013, when I matched a rhomboid tondo fragment of a kylix by the Euaion Painter at the Villa Giulia Museum in Rome to fragments from the Bothmer collection (Tsirogiannis & Gill forthcoming 2014). Although the MET did not reply to my email requesting the collecting history of the object (February 26, 2013), in July 2013 the Villa Giulia Museum informed me that the MET planned to return the rest of the kylix to Italy.

That match was made possible because the MET had posted (although they then withdrew) images of the fragmented kylix in the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) Object Registry, a website on which museums can post objects lacking full collecting histories before 1970. The Registry covers only objects formally acquired by museums after 2008, which explains why the Python bell-krater does not appear there (last accessed on April 6, 2014). There is no such Registry for objects acquired in the period 1970-2008 and lacking earlier collecting history, but on the basis of this new identification and published reconstruction of the bell-krater’s collecting history, the MET should accept that this object too should be repatriated to Italy, either voluntarily, following the recent example of the Euaion kylix fragments, or, if it comes to court, following the United States vs. Frederick Schultz verdict, by which U.S. law recognized foreign patrimony law (Silver 2010:249; Renfrew 2010:94).

The Need for Further Academic Research

The identification of the vase in the Medici archive, with the handwritten note below the Polaroid image, not only suggests that the vase has most likely been unlawfully removed from Italian soil, but also highlights discrepancies between published interpretations of the main scene depicted on the vase. Let us look more closely at the scholarly descriptions of the vase to which the MET refers on its website.

The MET website gives three sources of publication for the vase; two from Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC) and one from Carlos Picon et al. (2007) Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (no. 184, pp. 161, 439). The two references to LIMC turn out to be to the same paragraph, in the supplement to vol. 7, found at the end of vol. 8 (1997:1113, Silenoi no. 20a = “Tybron no. 2”). This reads:

New York, MM 1989.11.4 – Green 93 Abb4.4 - S. Tybron (oder Hybron) Zeiht Dionysos und Auletin auf einem Karren.

This description of the scene gives two readings of the writing on the vase, correctly noting that the  final two letters appear to be Ω N (ŌΝ); the writing is interpreted as a nickname for the old Silenos  figure, using the evidence of a neck-amphora attributed to Python (Trendall 1987: 142, pl.89 no.240) in which Papposilenos appears in the top right corner of an elaborate obverse scene (the birth of Helen from an egg) with the clear inscription ΤΥΒΡΩΝ above. Medici’s vase, it seems, was not known at the time of Trendall’s publication, since Trendall writes (p. 142): ‘this is the  first time [‘papposilen inscribed ΤΥΒΡΩΝ’] has been identifed, though the name is not found elsewhere’. In LIMC, the inscription on the bell-krater is the second such identification but with some uncertainty about the reading (and hence, meaning) of the name.

The LIMC entry, describing Dionysos’ companion on the cart simply as ‘Auletin’, (‘flute-player’), is more neutral in description than the source it cites, John Richard Green in his book Theatre in Ancient Greek Society (1994). Green on p. 93 describes the scene on the krater (pictured in his fig. 4.4), ‘recently acquired’ by the MET, as that of ‘an actor as papposilenos’ pulling Dionysos and ‘Ariadne’ along on a cart (for Green, the bird on her lap is ‘doubtless...a symbol of love’) on a festive occasion, while ‘a maenad keeps them company’. By ‘maenad’ he means the thyrsos-bearing figure in the upper left corner of the scene, separated from the others by a wavy line. Green characterises the vase as “splendid”, referring to it as ‘by Python’, but placing it ‘on the earlier side of the painter’s career.’

There are a number of odd elements in this interpretation; in other vases attributed to Python, busts of figures appearing at the top of the scene, surrounded by a wavy line, are given names (inscriptions above the figures) indicating that they are deities or nymphs (e.g. the red-figured bell-kraters no. GR 1890.2-10.1 and 1917.1210.1 in the British Museum); that is, the wavy line in these cases represents a nimbus and hence the separation of realms. As for ‘Ariadne’, more is needed to support this mythological identification, which is not found in Picon; unlike several Python vases, there are no names on this krater except for the inscription, not mentioned by Green, at the level of the pipes above the Silenos-figure. Finally, Green’s dating of the vase to Python’s earlier period does not find support in the elaborate shape of the palmettes framing the scene, which, detached from the fans below the vase-handles, conform to the ‘standard variety’ rather than the less-developed earlier shapes (for a chronological overview, see Trendall 1987:16). The MET publication, unlike that of Green, refers to the vase as an example of ‘Python at his best.’

Green informs us in an end-note that the vase passed through Sotheby’s in New York, the same year (1989) it was acquired by the museum (Green 1994:192, note no. 8), a fact that is not stated on the MET website. Sotheby’s catalogue is in fact the earliest published attribution of the vase to Python, and the catalogue, although it cites Mayo and Trendall for parallels, does not in this case name the authority for the attribution (as it sometimes does in other cases). While the attribution to Python is most probably correct, the vase is not signed by Python; up to 1987, only two vases signed by Python were known (Trendall 1987:137, 139). It is odd that Sotheby’s cite a parallel in Trendall 1987 (‘another appropriate nickname’ for Silenos) and yet offer the incorrect reading of the inscription as ‘Hubris’, which in turn appears to be the basis for the official description on the MET website (last accessed April 2014) and published by the MET in Carlos Picon et al. (2007:439) (the third bibliographical reference given on the website). The MET too read ‘Hubris’, although citing LIMC, in which we find ‘Tybron (oder Hybron)’. Medici, for all his lack of Greek, did represent the inscription more accurately; the first letter seems to be a T or an H rather than an R, but the fading of the paint makes it uncertain. The ending of the word is more surely ΩΝ (ŌΝ); an abstract quality such as hubris is an unlikely inscription in this context.

It is evident from this outline of the different interpretations that further professional study is required.

Conclusion

We have highlighted both the partial nature of the collecting history given in all published sources, and the differences in the scholarly analyses of the vase. The fact that the MET’s bell krater – only the second vase on which papposilenos is given another name - is not included in Trendall’s 1987 corpus of Paestum vases indicates that the vase surfaced after 1987. However, Trendall’s 1987 reading of the neck-amphora inscription seems not to be exploited either in Sotheby’s reading of the inscription on the bell-krater in 1989 or the reading by Picon et al. in 2007.

Green alone mentions all the sources published at his time. Nevertheless, apart from this vase, there appear in Green’s book images of other vases that later turned out to be illicit (e.g. Green 1994:30,  g. 2.9, an Attic red-figure calyx-krater with two members of a bird chorus about a piper, at the Getty Museum; Green 1994:46,  g. 2.21, a Terentine red-figure bell-krater with comic scene showing a slave and two choregoi with a figure of Aigisthos, formerly in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection and, later, at the Getty museum); these were likewise depicted in Polaroid images from the Medici archive; they were repatriated to Italy (Godart, De Caro & Gavrili 2008:102-103 and 138-139, respectively).

The MET has several questions to answer. What is the ‘Bothmer Purchase Fund’? It has been proved that Dietrich von Bothmer played a crucial role in the acquisition of archaeological material, looted and smuggled after 1970, both on behalf of the MET and for his personal collection formed during the same period (Gill 2012:64; this obvious conflict of interest was overlooked by the museum; see Felch 2012, Tsirogiannis & Gill forthcoming 2014). My email to the MET (February 7, 2014), querying this point and requesting the full collecting history of the krater, remains unanswered, although it was sent to three different offices. No contact details for the Department of Greek and Roman Art are available on the museum website.

In a wider perspective, the Python bell-krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of many similar cases. North American museums, recently found to have acquired illicit antiquities, and forced to return those objects, still have in their possession many more. The very museums which advertise their care for transparency, in practice continue to conceal the full collecting history of tainted objects they own, and wait for them to be discovered. In this regard, the story of the Python bell-krater case is absolutely typical.

ARCA's publication is produced twice per year and is available by subscription which helps to support the association's ongoing mission. Each edition of the JAC contains a mixture of peer-reviewed academic articles and editorials, from contributors authors knowledgeable in this sector.
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Author's Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Dr. Helen Van Noorden for her comments and her overall help. My thanks go to Mr Andrew Gully (Sotheby’s) for providing me with the hammer price for the bell krater in the June 23, 1989 auction.

August 1, 2017

Three years in the making: The case of “A South Italian Bell-Krater by Python in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” results in seizure.

On June 1, 2014 this blog published a distilled version of an academic investigation which heavily documented details from an article in the Spring 2014 Journal of Art Crime which highlighted the illicit origin of a possibly trafficked Bell-krater.  The author of the peer-reviewed journal article, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, is an expert on illicit antiquities trafficking and objects identification who also teaches with ARCA's as part of our postgraduate art crime program.* 

At the time ARCA published Tsirogiannis' long-form article, the krater was on display in Gallery 161 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Attributed to the artist Python (active ca. 350 – 325 BCE) of Poseidonia (Paestan), the vase depicts Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, along with a flute-playing companion.

By comparing a series of five photos which are part of the confiscated and now infamous Medici archive, Tsirogiannis believed that the krater should be seized from the Met Museum, as the likelihood of it having been looted was quite high.

The photos reviewed by Tsirogiannis were part of the art market records of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2005 of receiving stolen goods and conspiracy to traffic looted antiquities. Given the presence of one damning polaroid in particular, it seemed very probable that this vase had passed through Medici's known network of suppliers who dealt in looted objects.

Medici polaroid of Python's bell-krater
The Polaroid SX-70 camera model was a boon in DIY photography, but the point and shoot camera did not arrive on the European market until 1972. As the new technology produced clear images with no separate negatives, its ready-in-a-instant photos could not be manipulated or altered.  They also didn't require a visit to a risky photo lab in order to develop rolls of film, making them perfect for amateur pornographers.

But the Polaroid SX-70 also became the camera of choice among many Italian looters of the period. The camera's instant photo capabilities meant traffickers too didn't have to worry about the photomat attendant making extra copies or notifying the authorities if their photos were deemed suspicious. By bypassing the film developing stage, the Polaroid photos could be shared directly between looter, middleman or antiquities dealer directly reducing the chance of detection.  This advent of this type of photography offered traffickers and their dealer counterparts with authentic and voyeuristic antiquities porn, which often memorialized the harsh reality of the looters handiwork.

Many such images, as with a Polaroid picture of Python's bell-krater, were found in Medici's confiscated business records.  In other repatriation cases, these photos have been used in evidentiary proceedings to establish object identifications and as documentation of the passages the object took from looter to dealer to the licit market.  So while the photos once were a book for the criminal they now serve law enforcement as evidence resulting in antiquities forfeiture from some of the world's most prestigious museums.

Some of the Polaroids in Medici's archive show antiquities in the trunks of cars, spread out on kitchen tables or on floors. In the photo of this particular Bell-Krater, the object appears to have been placed on a rose-coloured upholstered chair or sofa.   This same background surface can be seen in another Medici archive photo analyzed by Maurizio Pellegrini and Daniela Rizzo of Italy’s Soprintendenza Beni Archeologici Etruria Meridionale at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. That identification involved antiquities which were later proven to be illicit and were repatriated to Italy (e.g. plates attributed to the Bryn Mawr Painter, once offered to the Getty Museum).

The 1972 date of the Polaroid SX-70 arrival in Europe is important as it proves that this object was likely dug up after the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  This international treaty was the first international instrument dedicated to the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property and made it illegal to export cultural property from signatory nations like Italy.  Despite this, the bell-krater arrived to the United States and was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York on June 23, 1989, selling for $90,000.  This is the same year that the object entered the Met’s antiquities collection, acquired by the museum via the Bothmer Purchase Fund, named for the longtime Met curator who died in 2009.**



But let's take a close look at this object and its photographic records, comparing a second Medici dossier photograph of the bell-krater with its counterpart from the Department of Greek and Roman Art collection online at the Metropolitan Museum.

NOTE:  The "See additional object information" link on this Bell-Krater, which would nominally list any and all collecting information the museum chose to document publically regarding this acquisition, was permanently removed from the Metropolitan Museum website.

Photo Left: from Medici's Archive depicting bell-krater highlighting salt encrustations
Photo Right: Archival Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
The Medici archive photo clearly shows the Python Bell-krater with salt encrustations at its base, while the vase's current restored condition in the museum's photo does not.   With this photo comparison we can hypothesize that Giacomo Medici was acutely aware of the vase's existence after 1972 and possibly in direct contact with participants connected with the vase's looting, before the object was restored.

Uncomfortable questions for uncomfortable museums

According to a New York Times article yesterday, July 31, 2017, this bell-krater has been seized by New York State authorities at the behest of an investigation initiated by New York State Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, to which Tsirogiannis provided detailed information.  A copy of the warrant can be found here.  Treading lightly in its opening photo caption, the NYT's article by Tom Mashberg delicately states that "A vessel known as a krater that the Metropolitan Museum of Art turned in to the district attorney’s office in Manhattan after a warrant was issued last week." This makes the seizure seem almost cooperative in nature, which to me seems a bit generous.

Tsirogiannis emailed the Metropolitan Museum on February 7, 2014, asking that his message questioning the object's origins be forwarded to the curatorial staff for the Department of Greek and Roman Art whose email is not available on the museum's website.  In his email he requested a full collecting history of the krater.  His email went unanswered.

The fact that this case was subsequently published in ARCA's Journal of Art Crime which outlined the museum's failure to respond, then in a blog post published on this blog, and again in a May 2017 journalistic piece in the National Geographic should have elicited some sort of public acknowledgement or rebuttal on the museum's part.   Instead the Met continued with its non-responsive stance with Tsirogiannis and failed to acknowledge the brewing conundrum in a proactive way.

In today's New York Times article Mashberg states

Officials said the museum had noticed Dr. Tsirogiannis’s published research in 2014 and, indeed, had been troubled by the reappearance of Mr. Medici’s name in connection with an artifact. They said they reached out informally to the Italian authorities then, but received no response.

It is not clear what "troubled" and "reached out informally means" or why, given the objects connection with a convicted trafficker and its likely looted state, why the museum didn't attempt to repatriate the object voluntarily.

Page 7 of the AAMD guidelines "Introduction to the Revisions to the 2008 Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art" reads:

"If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a Work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the Work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a Work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the Work, as has been done in the past."

I guess the museum's voluntary informal notification, its only proactive gesture towards an object of concern in three years, could be commended, but to me their actions towards righting a potential wrong were insufficient.  Yes, the museum brought "this information to the attention of the party" by contacting the Italian authorities as mentioned in the NYT article.  But despite this preliminary step, they failed to respond to an academic researcher's request for further clarification on the object's provenance, then removed the object's spartan collection details from their website completely.

Museums can and should do better.  

While the AAMD is committed to the exercise of due diligence and enhanced transparency in the acquisition process, and to demonstrating that accessioned objects in museum collections are out of their country of modern discovery prior to or legally exported therefrom after November 17, 1970, the Metropolitan Museum only adhered to a fraction of the Association's recommended guidelines in its handling of this object.

Passively waiting for a law enforcement seizure, like a wait and watch approach to a potential cancer,  should not be an acceptable protocol with suspect antiquities which documentation has proved require fuller due diligence. Especially when the museum was well informed that there was a brewing issue surrounding the object in question.

By: Lynda Albertson
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*You may read Dr. Tsirogiannis’ article on this object in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing via the ARCA website or ordering the issue through Amazon.com.

** Bothmer played a crucial role in the acquisition of archaeological material, looted and smuggled after 1970, both on behalf of the MET and for his personal collection formed during the same period.

March 9, 2017

Exhibition: When a school transforms itself into a museum: Preserving Italian heritage: recovered artefacts on display from 9 March to 30 April 2017 at the Rome International School



Following the success of the “Pop Icons” exhibition, the Rome International School in collaboration with MiBACT and the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale will host a new cultural event in Rome, Italy highlighting the work of the Italian art crime military squad.

Starting today, and running through April 30th, the Rome International School will host 75 archaeological items, recovered from illegal excavations and thefts 
recovered by this special branch of the Carabinieri.

On hand for today's press conference was Commander of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, General Fabrizio Parrulli, the Director General of LUISS Guido Carli University (the parent school to the RIS), and Giovanni Lo Storto, Director General, MiBACT.

If you ever wanted irrefutable proof that a large, well trained police force can have an impact on art crimes, this exhibition, both visually and emotionally, hands you unrefutable evidence on a plate. 

Want to whet your appetite to what you will see on display?  

Here are a few of the artworks which stand out:

An attic red-figure pelike depicting Hercules in the garden of the Hesperides, and on the reverse side, a scene from the Iliupersis, also known as the sacking of Troy. This IV century BCE ceramic storage jar, similar to an amphora, was illegally excavated from somewhere in Puglia/Sicilia/Sardegna/Calabria.  It was recovered during "Operation Teseo" a multinational police operation which recovered 5,361 antiquities confiscated in Basel, Switzerland.

A 340-320 BCE crater with a representation of Helios on his sun chariot pulled by horses.  This vase was seized during a raid against an antiquities dealer in 2009. 

An illegally excavated III-I century BCE sarcophagus with a full-length portrait of a man reclining on a kline from clandestine excavation conducted in Southern Etruria dear Tuscania.  One of the largest objects in this exhibition, the sarcophagus was recovered from an art storage warehouse in Switzerland in 2016 as part of Operation Antiche Dimore, a law enforcement seizure of 45 shipping crates belonging to Robin Symes which contained ancient works of art worth an estimated € 9 million that the disgraced dealer intended for the English market, Japanese and American antiquities markets.  

A fresco slab looted from a tomb in historic Casertano depicting an armed warrior on horseback along with two heavily armed hoplite (foot-soldiers). The work was recovered from the storage area of an antiquities dealer in Como, Italy in May 2015. 


A specific installation dedicated to ancient armour, which includes ancient suits of armour and weapons that originate from different parts of Italy, between the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. 

The exhibition builds a bridge between the culture of the past, the culture of the future and the culture of legality.  The last ultimately protects the rights of all of us to enjoy the knowledge and beauty that we have inherited from centuries long past. 

The art crime exhibition will be open to the public for free Monday to Friday, between 8:30 am and 6:00 pm and during the weekends from 10:00 am until 8:00pm

For more information about the event please visit the RIS website. 

February 21, 2017

Auction Alert: Timeline Auctions. February 21, 2017, London, UK

On February 20, 2017 ARCA contacted Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Timeline auction scheduled to start the following day in London, UK at 10:00am GMT.

TimeLine Auctions holds regular auction sales of antiquities from around the world.  Bidding can be done in person, or electronically through their own or associated websites. The firm is a prominent middle-range British dealer in portable antiquities.

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has collaborated with ARCA to draw attention to and identify antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Dr. Tsirogiannis in turn consulted TimeLine Auction's current online sale catalog and reviewed the objects for possible matches.  Contacting us shortly thereafter, he informed us that he had matched not one, but three antiquities traceable to known traffickers of illicit antiquities.

Each of the three ancient objects match conclusively with photos that are found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive (lot 49 and lot 79) and the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive (lot 183).

The items Dr. Tsirogiannis identified as being of possible concern are: 

A Scythian Rhyton with Animal Head: Lot 0049

Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive
NB This photo has been reversed horizontally for matching purposes. 

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has unfortunately been sold for £3,100 including buyer's premium. 

Scythian Moose Inset with Cabochons: Lot 0079


Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive 

Top: Screen Capture
TimelineAuction 02/21/17
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Giacomo Medici Archive
The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has also unfortunately been sold for £2,790 including buyer's premium.

Roman Head of a Youth: Lot 0183

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 

"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency with which potentially illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, collectors will be encouraged to do their own due diligence, before acquiring objects for their collections.  In this way new buyers will not be duped into the laundering of objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

While it is likely too late to save the new owners of Lot 0049 and Lot 0079 the headache of having just purchased potentially laundered illicit antiquities, ARCA hopes that Timeline will willingly withdraw the third object, to allow more time for due diligence, now that these identifications have been made.  In this way, the auction firm can avoid passing along another tainted antiquity to an unsuspecting collector.

It also would be nice, if in turn, Timeline shared the consignor/s contact information with the authorities, or encouraged the current owner to contact the authorities so that they could determine if any other suspicious items had been purchased in the past, which may have passed through Symes and Medici's hands.

As always, Tsirogiannis has sent the documentation of his informed suspicions on to law enforcement authorities at INTERPOL.

By Lynda Albertson

August 3, 2016

Recap of the 2016 Amelia Conference

By Catherine Waldram, Guest Blogger


As ARCA's blog readership generally knows the Association for Research into Crimes against Art is a research and outreach organisation working to promote the study and research of art crime and cultural heritage protection.  One of the ways we do this is by identifying emerging and under-examined trends related to various types of art crime and in doing so work to highlight developing strategies that advocate for the responsible stewardship of our collective artistic and archaeological heritage.  In furtherance of that, each year ARCA hosts a weekend summer art crime conference in Italy, where allied professionals, academic scholars, and students across interdisciplinary fields convene within the old walls of the quiet Umbrian town of Amelia, for what has come to be known as the Amelia Conference. 

This year's event was held June 24-26, 2016. 

As with previous years, the objective of the conference was to share perspectives and approaches working to abate art crime and illicit cultural property trafficking internationally, while facilitating an atmosphere of communication and collaboration between professionals working in the sector in order to share new and emerging approaches. The conference takes place mid-way through ARCA’s ten-course Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection which in turn gives the Association's postgraduate students the opportunity to meet and speak with experts from all over the world while exchanging news, ideas and experiences.

The following report will provide a brief summary of the speakers’ messages in brief.

Photo Credit: Billie Fee
Alesia Koush, an art historian with Heritage Community Life Beyond Tourism® created by the Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation®, which has been operating for over twenty years for intercultural dialogue and peaceful coexistence in the world, gave the opening address.

Koush's research focuses on the protection of cultural heritage and she serves on the foundation’s international board of experts. In the framework of these activities, she conceived and coordinated two editions of the international workshop “Value Education for Culture, Peace and Human Development” – a theme representing the result of her multi-annual research, which she continues to develop participating at international conferences and publishing articles.

In Kouch's presentation “Without culture, there is no peace” she stressed that more recognition and legal protections for our shared, inalienable human right to culture are necessary. She reminded the audience of the teachings of Russian artist, Professor Nicholas Roerich and philosopher Swami Vivekananda who both stressed the need for protection of cultural values, stressing cultural education as a a critical component of teaching society of the necessity of preserving universal human values.

After the opening address, Saturday's first panel elaborated on the current climate of civil, national, and international law as it relates to cultural heritage protection.

Dr. Saskia Hufnagel, co-director of the Criminal Justice Centre at Queen Mary University of London, discussed the restitution of cultural heritage objects within the German context, pointing out that criminal prosecution can often be faster than civil restitution.

Ivett Paulovics and Pierfrancesco C. Fasano, Milan-based Attorneys-at-Law from FASANO Avvocati, noted the initial shortcomings and subsequent changes in the EU legal framework for unlawfully removed cultural objects and the important changes brought about by EU Directive 2014/60, involving a shift in the burden of proof onto the possessor of the object.

Lastly, Silvia Beltrametti of the University of Chicago Law School presented her study on the impact of court convictions of antiquities dealers on pricing and provenance of ancient artifacts at auction. Her analyses concluded that international treaties and legal threats correlate to a greater market demand for items with clearer and demonstrable provenance. The relationship was clearly exemplified by spikes in the price of classical and Egyptian objects accompanied by better documentation of the collecting history corresponding with the timing of high-profile prosecutions, like that of Fredrick Schultz and Giacomo Medici.

The second morning panel consisted of European and Antipodean perspectives on art and heritage crime and the trafficking of culture within the former Yugoslavia, the Balkans, and Australia.

Helen Walasek, author of Bosnia and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage, formerly worked with the Bosnian Institute in London and Bosnia-Herzegovina Heritage Rescue (BHHR). Walasek brought insight into the destruction and damage of cultural buildings of significance in the region and the functioning duties of the  International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The judgments represented a growth in humanitarian pressure and response to inflict penalties on perpetrators of cultural heritage destruction that willfully inflicted harm on the morale and history with no military necessity. Walasek underlined the importance of recognizing that damages to culturally significant property reach not only those near affected areas, but also the entirety of mankind.

Elena Sciandra, a Ph.D. student in International Studies at the University of Trento School of International Studies with a M.Sc. in Criminal Justice Policy, shared her findings on illicit antiquities trafficking occurring in the Balkan region. Sciandra called for greater research dedicated to transit countries involved in trafficking activities.

Professors Kenneth Polk and Duncan Chappell examined and presented contemporary developments in the Antipodean art world. Dr. Polk is a retired Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne and continues to serve as a researcher on such topics as art theft, art fraud, and the illicit traffic in antiquities.  He also has been recently appointed by the Australian Government to the National Cultural Heritage Committee. Dr. Chappell is a lawyer and criminologist, currently teaching as a Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney, and as a Conjoint Professor in the School of Psychiatry at the University of NSW. He is also the Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence in Policing and Security and ARCA's Art and Cultural Heritage Law professor for the Postgraduate Certificate Program. Together Polk and Chappell noted that typical trafficking portals in their region include Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore and both cited multiple cases and legal instruments, including the “Head of Man” sold by Subhash Kapoor and the Australian 1986 Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act’s Section 14 on Unlawful Imports.

Saturday's first afternoon panel highlighted the current state of endangered antiquities from Mesopotamia to South Arabia via the Levant. Chaired by ARCA 2015 Alumni, Samer ABDEL GHAFOUR, the founder of the ArchaeologyIN – Archaeology Information Network, the panel focused on best practices and the positive impact of community-focused development projects in the protection of cultural heritage in politically strained regions.   Mr. Abdel Ghafour also introduced ARCA's three 2016 Minerva Scholarship students for this year's postgraduate program:  Zuhoor Khalid Ali Al-Ansi, from Yemen, Ahmed Fatima Kzzo, from Syria and Ameer Doshee Jasim from Iraq. All three students have been sponsored by individuals and organisations who want to promote the study of art crime among the professional community actively working within conflict zones. The Minerva scholarship is set aside to equip scholars with the knowledge and tools needed to build the capacity to address heritage crimes successfully when they return to their home institutions and to advance this training within their respective regions. 

Conference Icebreaker with ARCA Minerva Scholars
Ahmed Kzzo, Zuhoor Khalid Ali Al-Ansi,
Ameer Doshee Jasim and Dr. Giorgio Buccellati and 
Dr. Marilyn Kelly Buccellati
Carla Benelli, a 2015 ARCA alumna and Osama Hamdan described the politicized use of archaeology for territorial control in occupied Palestinian territories as well as the current state of poor management and neglect of archaeological sites in that region. Carla Benelli, is the Cultural Heritage Project Manager at the Associazione pro Terra Sancta (Custody of the Holy Land) at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. Osama Hamdan is the Director of the Palestinian NGO Mosaic Centre and a Lecturer at the Higher Institute of Islamic Archaeology at Al-Quds University in Palestine. Both speakers encouraged greater investment in people within the region, facilitated by an improved education system and government strategy. 

As a Research Fellow at the University of Pisa, Costanza Odierna shed light on the widespread destruction of archaeological heritage at risk in Yemen and the University of Pisa’s related projects in support of Yemeni museums, including the Damār Museum and Zngibar Museum. Odierna introduced the digital archive her team has created, known as the Digital Archive for the Study of pre-Islamic Arabian Inscriptions (DASI), to act as a resource for study and preservation. 

Next, Professors Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati spoke of their experiences at Tell Mozan (Arabic: تل موزان‎‎, ancient Urkesh; Hasakah Governorate, Syria), in modern-day Northern Syria.  Nearly 20 years ago, the pair and their team identified the fourth millennium BCE tell located in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains in Al-Hasakah Governorate and have been working on the site through 17 seasons of excavations. 

Dr. Giorgio Buccellati is the Founding Director of the International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies - IIMAS and a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and the Department of History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati serves as the Director of Excavations at the ancient city of Urkesh and is a faculty member at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

Together, the Buccellati's offered practical and cost-effective solutions which they have used to harness vital community-based social-cultural infrastructures as a means of preventing site damage and the looting of their archaeological site. Their long-term project in Syria, located just 60 kilometers (37 miles) from ISIS-controlled territory, has been successfully maintained and protected despite its at-risk proximity to conflict zones in a large part because local staff are instilled with an intense loyalty to the heritage of the region and to the scientists and scientific work being conducted at Tell Mozan over the last decades.

The Buccellati's efforts to harness the cooperation of local people, who now serve as guardians of the Tell Mozan site, are documented in a report titled "In the Eye of the Storm," This report details how a plan to protect Urkesh from crumbling has inadvertantly served as a model for protecting the heritage site during and in spite of Syria's long-standing armed conflict.  

The Buccellati's challenged the audience, asking: “How can we expect stakeholders to protect the sites if we do not?”

The afternoon’s second panel discussion focused on characterizing and anticipating the trafficking of culture in and from zones of conflict.

Dr. Samuel Andrew Hardy, a specialist researching the illicit antiquities trade and the destruction of community and cultural property for various organizations including UNESCO is an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Program in Sustainable Cultural Heritage at the American University of Rome.  Hardy spoke on his work “The Importance of Being Diligent” and existing trends in present-day conflict antiquities looting.

Andrew Scott DeJesse, Lieutenant Colonel and Cultural Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army, provided an overview of his work on the Collective Heritage Lab. The innovative social laboratory is being developed to track the antiquities trade and disrupt the connections between the demands of the legal antiquities market, the grey market, and the illicit trafficking of stolen artifacts.

Britta M. Redwood, J.D. candidate at Yale University, discussed museum and collector liability under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act. Redwood shared perspectives on several recent cases, including Linde et al. v. Arab Bank in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The second day of the conference began with a morning panel focused on cases of art crime occurring in Italy, offering insight into the challenges of repatriation as well as how successful joint mediation efforts can be useful in developing collaborative relationships which facilitate repatriation. 

Serena Raffiotta, Archaeologist, shared the story of a blue curl that her team discovered in Morgantina, Sicily. Through her relationship with the J. Paul Getty Museum, she found that this small piece was, in fact, a perfect puzzle fit to the iconic terracotta head of Hades within the institution’s collection at the time. The Hades sculpture has since been returned to Morgantina. Stefano Alessandrini, Archaeologist and Consultant for L’Avvocatura dello Stato, Italia, brought his perspective from his efforts to repatriate illicitly trafficked works of art home to Italy.

Virginia Curry, retired FBI Special Agent and Doctoral Candidate at the University of Texas at Dallas, shed light on the long-standing history of unethical collecting methods among some collectors of ancient art. Curry told the story of Piermatteo d’Amelia’s “Annunciation”, originally from the altar of a Franciscan church located just outside the city of Amelia, not far from the Boccarini cloister where the conference was held. By examining letters between Isabella Stewart Gardner and Bernard Berenson which highlight a long succession of business transactions between Berenson and Gardner in the purchasing of art works Ms. Curry highlighted that the Boston-based collector had more than passing knowledge in the illicit nature of the stolen “Annunciation” which ultimately ended up in her private collection. 

Sunday's second group of morning panelists spoke about fakes, forgeries, and the illicit trafficking of rhino horns infiltrating the market.

James Ratcliffe, General Counsel and Director of Recoveries at The Art Loss Register, spoke about fakes and forgeries circulating in the market, as witnessed by his firm. The Art Loss Register is one of  largest private database of lost and stolen art, antiques, and collectables. Their services include item registration, search and recovery services to collectors, the art trade, insurers, and worldwide law enforcement agencies. Some of the items Ratcliff covered were the corruption and manufacturing of false provenance, the use of provenance to legitimise forgeries and the difficulties that arise from the fact that so few people have any interest in revealing forgeries which results in the recycling of fakes and forgeries in the market.

Dr. Annette Hübschle-Finch, Senior Research Advisor at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, shared her studies on the market and the grey zone of regulation for rhino horns. Hübschle-Finch underscored that South Africa continues to allow recreational hunting of rhino horns for hunters with permits, resulting in abuse as well as regulatory challenges. The last speaker was Allen Olson-Urtecho, an art adjuster, investigator, and principal at Fine Arts Adjusters LLC as well as a Ph.D. student at IDSVA.  Olson-Urtecho  introduced his team’s Fine Art Forensics Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and stressed the importance of disseminating knowledge to wider audiences to curb the proliferation of fakes and forgeries within the marketplace.

In the afternoon, perspectives of art crime were shared by public sector law enforcement officers as well as private investigators.

Jordan Arnold, Senior Managing Director at K2 Intelligence, shared insight into the Panama Papers that were leaked from the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca and its impact on future regulation targeting the art market. Arnold spoke about the regulatory functions of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the responsibility of banks and financial institutions to monitor accounts for suspicious activity under the U.S. Patriot Act. 

Fons van Gessel, Senior Strategic Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Security and Justice in the Netherlands, and Martin Finkelnberg, Head of the Art and Antiquities Crime Unit in the National Criminal Intelligence Division of the National Police of the Netherlands, shared findings from the 3rd meeting of the EU CULTNET held in the Hague on 25 May 2016. The EU CULTNET is the informal network of law enforcement authorities and experts in the field of cultural goods. van Gessel and Finkelnberg stressed the need for cooperation and the exchange of information and best practices.

Michael Will, Manager of the Organized Crime Networks Group and Focal Point Furtum at EUROPOL, provided an overview of EUROPOL's and Europe's involvement in the fight against cultural goods trafficking. Gonzalo Giordano, General Secretariat and Sub-Directorate of the Drugs and Organized Crime in Works of Art unit at INTERPOL, discussed initiatives and methods at INTERPOL’s Works of Art unit utilised in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property.

The final conference panel dealt with cultural heritage risk management approaches to effectively balance the accessibility with the protection of collections.

Judit Kata Virág, Registrar at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, called for greater stewardship and cooperation between museum professionals and law enforcement agencies in the fight against art trafficking. Dick Drent, Associate Director of SoSecure, Toby Bull, Founder of TrackArt, and Ibrahim Bulut, Business Development Manager at Meyvaert Glass Engineering, reminded the audience that in the security profession there are two basic approaches used to deal with security vulnerabilities: reactive and proactive.  Reactive approaches are those procedures that museums use once they discover that their facility has been compromised by an intruder or attack. Proactive approaches include all measures that are taken with the goal of preventing risks before they occur compromising security.   Speaking candidly with the attendees the panalists underscored that security doesn’t begin with the detection of a compromised situation resulting in a theft or damage to an art work, but with an advanced plan to minimize risk that includes many factors customized to the needs of each individual facility. The speakers on the panel pushed for change from reactive measures and fostering mew approaches which take into consideration proactive measures within the security sector, facilitated by security intelligence coupled with smarter techniques and more security focused construction.


March 23, 2016

Do You Know Where Your Art Has Been? When the Licit Antiquities Trade Masks an Illicit Criminal Enterprise

Robin Symes, was once one of London's best-known and most successful dealers in antiquities. For 30 years, he and his partner Christo Michailidis were inseparable as two of the movers and shakers in the global antiques trade.  Collecting property in London, New York and Athens, and fancy cars as well as antiquities, the two procured ancient artefacts for, and wined and dined with, the rich and famous, including well-known antiquities collectors Leon Levy and his wife Shelby White.

Building one of the world's largest ancient art businesses, Symes and Michailidis pieces also became part of museum collections around the globe, including the J Paul Getty Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum.   At the height of their enterprise Italian authorities estimated that the pair's jointly-run ancient art business earned them an estimated 170 million euro but a series of missteps proved the dealers' undoing, literally and figuratively and in 2005 Symes served a very brief jail sentence for disregarding court orders over the sale of a £3m Egyptian statue.

Art Dealer Robin Symes
In 2006 Symes was further implicated as being part of one of the most sophisticated illicit antiquities networks in the world in a bookThe Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums” by Peter Watson and Cecelia Todeschini.  The Medici Conspiracy outlined Symes' assets which included thirty-three known warehouses encompassing some 17,000 objects worth an estimated £125 million ($210 million) as well as his ties to traffickers in Europe's illicit antiquities trade. Each of the museums mentioned above were subsequently forced to relinquish looted objects that had been laundered illegally and which at one time had passed through networks connected with  Symes.

In addition to requests for museum repatriations, the Italian government has also gone after collectors who have purchased Symes-tainted art for their individual private collections.  In November 2006 they asked Syme's client and friend New York collector Shelby White to return more than 20 objects from the Levy-White collection looted from southern Italy. An avid collector and philanthropist, White had donated $20 million to financing for the Metropolitan's expanded wing of Greek and Roman art.   That same year she made a $200 million gift of cash and real estate to New York University via the Leon Levy Foundation to finance the University's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW).

After 18 months of intense negotiations, White ceded ten classical antiquities to the Italian government from the Shelby White and Leon Levy private collection.  One of the ten objects was an attic red-figured calyx-krater depicting Herakles slaying Kyknos, signed by the celebrated fifth-century B.C. painter Euphronios.  This object had once been on extended loan to the Metropolitan Museum.  Discussed in Watson and Todeschini's book, (pages 128-32) and illustrated in J. Boardman's “The History of Greek Vases, (fig. 120), the calyx-krater vessel had been laundered through the hands of tainted antiquities dealers Giacomo Medici, Bob Hecht and Robin Symes before finally coming to rest within the White/Levy collection.  Polaroids held by the Italian government used in the investigation clearly show the object broken into pieces with dirt still clinging to the vase fragments.

Another returned Shelby White and Leon Levy object was a small bronze statue purchased through Symes for 1.2 million dollars in 1990.   The bronze had been displayed during the exhibition “Glories of the Past: Ancient Art From the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection”, a presentation of over 200 objects from the couple's ancient art collection on view at the Metropolitan Museum.  Italian authorities traced this bronze to Symes via thirteen photographs seized through convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici.  The photos showed the statue also covered with dirt during the early stages of its trafficking from tombarolo to the collections of the wealthy.

But despite academic pressure regarding the many tainted pieces in their collection, Ms. White has steadfastly maintained that she and her husband, who died in 2003, purchased their artifacts in good faith and had no knowledge that objects within their collection included those which were clandestinely excavated and trafficked out of source countries.   

Given White's roll in the formation of ISAW, which on its website states is "a center for advanced scholarly research and graduate education, which aims to encourage particularly the study of the economic, religious, political and cultural connections between ancient civilizations" it seems unusual that a seasoned collector of White's caliber would not have understood the implications of an object's collection history prior to purchasing high-end antiquities, especially given the hefty price tags that accompanied many of the family's ancient art acquisitions.

But back to the dealer Symes himself. 

When prosecuted for some of his offences, Symes lied to the court and claimed that he had stored his antiquities in five warehouses.  It later transpired that he had secretly stashed items in more than 30 warehouses, peppered between London, New York and Switzerland, some of which the authorities are continuing to search for. One of these storage facilities was the subject of a closed door press conference in Rome on March 22, 2016.

When seasoned officers from Italy's Art Policing division, the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale pried open forty-five large wooden shipping crates at a Port Franc freeport warehouse storage facility in Geneva in January 2016 they were shocked by the contents they found. Carefully inventoried, complete with dated newspaper wrappings, was enough ancient art to fill a museum: 5,300 objects spanning 1500 years of Italian archeology. 

In one singular warehouse, stashed away for 15 years, the British art dealer had squirrelled away an Ali Baba's cave-worthy hoard of Roman and Etruscan treasures.  Among the objects were two exceptional sixth century BCE Etruscan sarcophagi looted from Tuscania; one of a reclining young woman with pink painted eyes and another of an elderly man. The crates were also filled with bas-reliefs and a cache of fresco fragments, some of which are believed to have come from a painted from a temple of Cerveteri, perhaps from the Vigna Marini Vitalini.  Whoever packed the crates methodically catalogued each of the box's contents, pasting a photocopy of the images of the contents to the exterior of each shipping container. Many of the art shipping containers contained an impressive quantity of attic pottery, painted plates, marble busts and bronzes.


During the press conference at the Carabinieri TPC barracks in Trastevere Italy's Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism Dario Franceschini, Italian deputy prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo, superintendent for Southern Etruria Alfonsina Russo and the head of the Carabinieri TPC Division, praised the coordinated efforts of the Swiss and Italian investigators. General Commander of the Carabinieri TPC, Mariano Mossa estimated the value of the objects discovered in the warehouse to be worth nine million euros.  

Culture Minister Franceschini called the warehouse raid "one of the most important finds of recent decades".   Prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo stated that the objects were stolen in the seventies, in clandestine excavations in Campania, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia as well as looted in Etruria. At some point in the looting campaign, the antiquities were smuggled into the Geneva freeport facility where they remained untouched and unopened.  Capaldo stated that they believe that the statues, tiles and sarcophagi were to be illegally exported and sold under false papers to collectors in Germany, Japan and other various collector countries.

Stefano Alessandrini, a consultant to Italy's State Prosecutor and Cultural Ministry and a lecturer during ARCA's postgraduate program who lectures for ARCA's Art Law and Illicit Trafficking course says that it is impossible to give a precise financial figure on the value of material stolen from Italy over the last half a century, ie. from the beginning of the 1970s.   Italian authorities believe that millions of objects have been illegally excavated and trafficked and some estimate the value of lost heritage due to antiquities looting to be as high as several billion euros.

Alessandrini emphasized that when reporters ask for financial figures to indicate art's value they do not take into consideration the “priceless” aspect of an object:  the loss of its historic information about the western world and the context in which the objects were found or how the tangible remains of antiquity gives us insightful information about ancient culture and civilisations. Alessandrini stated that only a small portion of the Italy’s looted art is ever located, and when it is, it is often only repatriated to Italy following lengthy litigation or extracted negotiations between the purchasers and the authorities in source countries.

Alessandrini stated "When looted works of ancient art end up in foreign museums or are sold by auction houses and antique dealers we have a good chance to identify and recover them because we have photographs.  But many of the antiquities are still hidden in caches of traffickers like this one or in the collections of unscrupulous collectors that haven't been displayed publicly."

It is believed that the return of the this cache of looted heritage will increase pressure on Great Britain to hand over another 700 disputed artefacts linked to the same collector that are currently being held by the liquidator for Mr Symes estate following his declared bankruptcy.  The UK cache of objects includes sculptures, jewellery and vases, most of which are believed by antiquities trafficking researchers to be Etruscan in origin and to have come predominantly from the Lazio and Tuscany regions of Italy.

In selecting antiquities, individual collectors and museums have choices. They can choose to focus exclusively on the historic, aesthetic and economic benefits of their acquisitions in formulating their collections or they can add ethical and moral criteria to their purchase considerations.  It's time for private collectors to conscientiously ask themselves

Who am I buying from?

Why does a dealer or group of dealers appear to have an unending supply of archaeological material?

and

Should I spend large sums of money purchasing objects that destroy, scatter or obliterate it as a source of historical information giving us insight into the past?

and

Will my purchase further more looting, theft, smuggling, or fraud?
and 

Could the proceeds of my purchase be used for nefarious purposes such as financing terrorism, militant activity or organised crime?

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

A partial sampling of images of some of the objects from the January 2016 Symes Geneva freeport seizure are included below.  ARCA has maintained a complete photo inventory of all objects seized for research purposes.

Copyright ARCA

Note the Newspaper date and packing materials of US Origin - Copyright ARCA

Roman Sarcophagus with added Christian elements - Copyright ARCA

Closeup of Antique Trade Gazette dating to August 1990, gives clue to date when crates were packed - Copyright ARCA

Vase and matching polaroid - Copyright ARCA

Shipping crates used by Symes as they appeared when opened by the Carabinieri TPV - Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Vase fragments with matching trafficker polaroid - Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Copyright ARCA

Syme's external inventory pasted to the outside of each crate -  Copyright ARCA