Showing posts with label Becchina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Becchina. Show all posts

October 23, 2017

Further information on the flagged lekythoi identified at London's Frieze Masters art fair

Image Left:  Christos Tsirogiannis, Frieze Masters 2017
Image Right: Gianfranco Becchina Archive
On October 22, 2017 the Guardian newspaper reported on two ancient Greek marble lekythoi identified as having once passed through the hands of convicted antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.   The identifications were made via forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis with the help of photographs obtained by a concerned individual in London.  Tsirogiannis notified the authorities of his findings on October 16, 2017.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities as they have come up for sale on the art market, matching corresponding objects to material found in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives.

During this research, Tsirogiannis informed ARCA that he had found two photocopied images and two Polaroid images of a lekythos which depicts an image of a dead warrior with his relatives which also has an inscription.  Reviewing copies of the images he sent in confirmation, they photographs of the lekythos show the object in pre-sale condition in two different spaces in storage depots. 

Tsirogiannis also identified a single photograph in the Becchina archive of the second lekythos mentioned in the Guardian article.  This photograph, unlike the others, was a professional black and white image and may have been used by the dealer for sale catalog purposes.

ARCA has joined two of the archive photographs with their Frieze Masters counterpart to show that Tsirogiannis' identifications match perfectly.

Image Left:  Christos Tsirogiannis, Frieze Masters 2017
Image Right: Gianfranco Becchina Archive
In addition to the photographic evidence, the Becchina archive also contained written documentation from 1988 and 1990 which showed that Becchina and George Ortiz as co-owners of the lekythos with the image and inscription. One of those documents also referenced the object in an earlier 1977 Becchina list of antiquities.

The two lekythoi were brought to London this Autumn on consignment – price “upon request” by the Basel-based art firm Jean-David Cahn AG, a gallery which specializes in ancient Greek and Roman art.   

They were exhibited in Regent's Park during Frieze Masters, a Frieze London spin-off art fair that features hundreds of leading modern and historical galleries from around the world, many with pricey, museum quality objects.  Both objects did not sell. 

According to Guardian journalist, Howard Swains, the consignor of the two lekythoi is the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt.  Each canton in Switzerland has its own constitution, legislature, government and courts and in this case it appears that the Basel-Stadt judiciary had greenlighted the brokering of the objects through the Swiss intermediary as part of their liquidation of Becchina's remaining unclaimed art assets from his business dealings in Basel. 

Sixteen years earlier Italian authorities had requested assistance from Swiss law enforcement in their longstanding investigation into Gianfranco Becchina's operations.  As a result of the joint Italian - Swiss operation, an international illicit trafficking ring was dismantled and 5,800 objects were seized from three Becchina warehouses under suspicion of having been plundered. 

The largest portion of these ancient objects were repatriated to Italy after a lengthy identification process.  Unfortunately, hundreds of orphaned objects, whose countries of origin were not verified, remained in limbo, under the jurisdiction of the Swiss authorities.

It is important to not that in agreeing to broker the sale of the lekythoi in London, Jean-David Cahn AG, elected to omit the Becchina and Ortis passages in the object documentation published for the Frieze Masters event.  That literature can be seen in the photos below.  While each carries a length description of the object, there is only spartan mentioning of their provenance, stating only “Formerly Swiss art market, October 1977”. 



While it remains unclear if the Greek authorities know about these two particular antiquities and if they somehow failed to file a claim at the time of their seizure,  the absence of any documentable provenance is a strong indicator that both artifacts, orphaned or not, were acquired through individuals connected with the Becchina's trafficking network.

The fact that antiquities dealers continue to market antiquities, selectively omitting problematic passages in an object's provenance is a longstanding issue.  In cases like these, it also underscores why many heritage protection experts — who monitor the antiquities trade and antiquities trafficking — believe the art market is unwilling or incapable of policing itself, especially if the seller believes that sharing the object's complete history might diminish its chances of finding a buyer.

Also worthy of note:

In 2006, Jean-David Cahn voluntarily returned a marble male head from its stock which had been stolen from the Temple of Eshmun in Lebanon.

Excerpt from the State of New York Application for Turnover - Bulls-Head-Case
In 2007, Jean-David Cahn returned a marble statue of the Lykeios Apollo that had been stolen from the archaeological site of Gortyna in Crete in 1991. 


Then in 2008, after a series of negotiations, Jean-David Cahn returned a different Attic marble funerary lekythos, also identified by Christos Tsirogiannis, to Greece as part of an out-of-court settlement.  That object had been pinpointed during the TEFAF Maastrict art fair in March 2007.

  
While the heritage community continues to advocate strongly for responsible collecting and informed due diligence from collectors before the make purchases as a means of curbing the trade in looted artifacts, one also has to also ask what is the ethical responsibility of dealers and governments, who knowingly place questionable origin objects up for sale, intentionally misleading potential buyers by not giving them all the collecting history information at their disposal.

Hypothetically Speaking...

What if a buyer had been interested in purchasing either of these antiquities?

Somewhere down the road, said buyer might find themselves in the awkward position of not being able to donate, or sell, or recoup their previous investment because the potentially illicit origin of the object was not made clear to them at the time of purchase. 

Food for thought.

By: Lynda Albertson

October 13, 2016

Lecture: ‘The International Illicit Antiquities Network: Dealers, Auction Houses, Private Collectors and Museums’ by Christos Tsirogiannis


Fen Edge Archaeology Group (FEAG) will host a lecture given by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis on the ‘The International Illicit Antiquities Network: Dealers, Auction Houses, Private Collectors and Museums

Date: Wednesday, 19 October 2016 

Time: 7.30 pm 


Admission Fee: Members £2; Non-members pay £3.’

The talk will present the main members of a trafficking network dealing in looted and smuggled antiquities, contra the 1970 UNESCO convention and will highlight connections between dealers, auction houses, private collectors and museums. Dr. Tsirogiannis will also make use of photographic evidence from confiscated archives of illicit antiquities dealers why antiquities should be repatriated and dealers and museum curators be prosecuted.

Christos Tsirogiannis is a forensic archaeologist researching smuggled antiquities and the market for looted cultural objects. He is a Senior Archaeologist at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and a lecturer at ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.  He studied archaeology and history of art in Greece and worked for the Greek Ministries of Culture and Justice from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. 

Since 2007, Christos has been identifying illicit antiquities, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, in museums, galleries, auction houses and private collections, notifying the relevant government authorities as toxic antiquities are suspected in the licit art market. 

April 11, 2016

Suspect Auction Items in Christie's Upcoming Antiquities Auction in New York

On March 30, 2016 in Paris, France UNESCO held a large multidisciplinary symposium examining the movement of cultural property in 2016.  As listed on the UNESCO website this event was facilitated to

bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Present were a long list of heritage trafficking experts, members of national delegations and law enforcement divisions concerned about illicit trafficking as well as professionals representing the licit antiquities art market. 

Catherine Chadelat, the president of the Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV), the regulatory authority for voluntary sales operators of chattels by public auction in France, stressed the importance of cooperation and communication between those working for the art market and allied professionals dealing with illicit trafficking issues.  During her opening address, she stated that the CVV  "strongly encourages market actors to not only comply with applicable regulations but to go further and take on a personal ethical responsibility."

Cecilia Fletcher, Senior Director, Compliance and Business Integrity Counsel for Sotheby’s European operations underscored her auction house's ethical standards and due diligence obligations to conduct its business with the highest level of integrity and transparency.  She expressed Sotheby's willingness to work closely with law enforcement agencies and ministries of culture to resolve issues when suspect antiquities come up for auction.  Martin Wilson, co-head of legal for Christie’s International, echoed his colleague, Ms. Fletcher's, words underscoring Christie's own efforts in ensure due diligence where antiquities are concerned.

Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) told the audience, as he had previously in Berlin in 2014, that many art dealers and sellers have good knowledge of where their stock originates from, but acknowledged that consignors haven't always kept good paperwork to prove it.  Asking for a show of hands from the audience, Greeling asked if any of the UNESCO invitees had ever inherited an antique from a relative that came without its original collecting documentation.

When discussing collection histories as they relate to the current situation in the Middle East, Geerling added, complete with an accompanying powerpoint slide, that "during the past two years, IADAA has checked with every member to ask if anything from the troubled areas had been offered and they reported back not a single dodgy Syrian or Iraqi object had been offered to any of our members"  While this is encouraging, IADAA only accounts for 34 art market dealers so his sampling is restricted to a limited number of high profile dealers. 

Throughout the day these and other art market's panelists contended that their respective organisations are doing their best, and that no-one, as yet, has seen illicit material coming through their firms or associations as a result of the current conflicts in the Middle East.  Absent from their presentations were what procedures, if any, the art market leaders had in place to notify law enforcement authorities should they be approached by a dealer or collector with a suspect antiquity originating from any source country. This despite the fact that unprovenanced, looted, illicitly trafficked antiquities regularly turn up in legitimate auctions, having passed through the hands of well known suspect dealers and galleries.


Despite that, Christos Tsirogiannis and others working with Italy's state prosecutors routinely identify objects looted from Italy decades ago,  matching the pieces through law enforcement archive photos and documentation held by the Italian authorities in relation to cases involving known tombaroli and corrupt dealers.

Three of these identified suspect pieces are currently scheduled to go on the auction block tomorrow through Christie's New York City division.

The suspect objects in the April 12, 2016 auction are: 



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, U.S.
An American Private Collector; Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1998, lot 182.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 2000.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION'

From all the previous owners, only the Royal Athena Galleries has been publicly listed in the lot's details.  Royal Athena Galleries has previously acquired stolen antiquities from the Corinth Museum in Greece and antiquities stolen from Italian excavation warehouses.  These details and the fact that these earlier objects, identified as stolen, were later repatriated to Greece and Italy should have triggered some sort of increased diligence as to this current mosaic's journey from discovery to the art market. 

In the Gianfranco Becchina archive Tsirogiannis identified a matching image of the mosaic via a leaflet created by Ariadne Galleries in New York.  The photocopied document presents the front window of the antiquities gallery, through which the same mosaic can be seen displayed on a wall. 

If Christie's has a commitment to transparency and due diligence in its antiquities auctions, as indicated in the UNESCO symposium, then why is it that they omitted the Ariadne Galleries connection in the offered lot's 'provenance' section?  

And why, if Royal Athena and Ariadne Galleries both have already been identified by Tsirogiannis in the past as having had tainted stock that at one time or another had passed through Becchina's network, weren't these two galleries a red flag to perhaps conduct a closer examination of the offered mosaic's origins?  

Tsirogiannis believes that this mosaic is likely from a country in northern Africa or the Near East. Christie's themselves mentions in their lot notes that there is a similar mosaic from Tunisia with the same subject in the permanent collection of the Bardo Museum.



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 10 December 1987, lot 243.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1988.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF CHARLES BRICKBAUER, BALTIMORE

Royal Athena Galleries in New York are again mentioned in this lot's details. From the research of Watson and Todeschini, Tsirogiannis reminds us that Giacomo Medici was consigning and laundering illicit antiquities via Sotheby's auctions in London during the 1980s. Tsirogiannis has identified the same hydria in a print photograph from the Medici photo archive.  Curiously though, the dealer Medici is also excluded from the 'provenance' section of this lot's details.    


Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, New York, Boston & Texas, acquired prior to 1995; thence by descent to the current owner.

Pre-Lot Text
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY'

Tsirogiannis has identified the same Roman janiform marble head from two images in the archive of the dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  Becchina, like Giacomo Medici, has not been included in the lot's 'provenance' section for tomorrow's auction.

Given that this is not the first suspect Roman janiform head smuggled out of Italy into the United States via Switzerland and identified from images in the Becchina archive, one would think that the auction house would consider this object in need of closer consideration before accepting it for consignment.

Which brings me back to UNESCO's meeting statement again and a lot of unanswered questions.

To bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Did Christie's contact/cooperate with the Carabinieri TPC on any of these objects in order to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation?

What is Christie's criteria for accepting or rejecting an antiquity for consignment and do they have a policy in place for notifying authorities when illicit material is suspected?

And what is the auction house's operational policy and criteria for green-lighting an antiquity for auction when said object has previously passed through known dealer/gallery sources already identified as having handled illicit antiquities in the past?

and

Where is the cooperation and communication Catherine Chadelat spoke of between illicit antiquities researchers and the art market?

Where is the commitment to transparency mentioned by Cecilia Fletcher when only a partial listing of the collection history of an object is mentioned?

Who are the academic experts working with Christie’s that Martin Wilson mentioned in January? What recommendation do these researchers have for ensuring that illegally excavated objects,  i.e. those without a "findable" trace in any art crime database, are truly clean and not simply laundered through several buyers in a ruse to create a plausible collection history.

In closing, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri, and the American authorities of his identifications. Here's hoping that the continued spotlight, however painful, will serve as a reminder that despite the presentations in Paris and the lack of suspect Syrian and Iraqi antiquities showing up in top-tier auctions, we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By:  Lynda Albertson



September 29, 2015

While the West Seeks Tighter Curbs on the Trade in Antiquities Looted by ISIS, Italian Suspect Antiquities Continue to Appear at Major Auction Houses

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another grouping of suspect antiquities set for auction October 1, 2015 at Christie’s in London.  Each of the objects appears to have ties to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. Becchina was convicted of antiquities trafficking in 2011.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying the relevant government authorities when matches are discovered.  An expert on the illicit antiquities trade, Dr. Tsirogiannis teaches ARCA's illicit antiquities course.  He also serves as Research Assistant to the Trafficking Culture Project at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research located at the University of Glasgow.

Despite having apparently “clean” collection histories, each of the antiquities listed below (Lots 6, 8 and 16) — or strikingly similar ones — appear in photographic evidence confiscated by the Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during their investigation into the network of traffickers affiliated with Gianfranco Becchina.


The three antiquities on offer at the upcoming sale at Christie’s are said to come from Professor Heissmeyer’s antiquities collection; A fourth antiquity (lot 93) was temporarily confiscated by the Swiss authorities in 2008 from the Japanese illicit antiquities dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi and has now been put back into circulation within the antiquities market. 

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit with the evidence for these new identifications.  

In detail, the suspect antiquities are:
Left - The oinochoe depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same oinochoe on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015


The oinochoe’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Germany, acquired prior to 1990.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from the above in 2005 (inv. no. 32).
Beazley Archive no. 9024860.

The same oenochoe seems to be depicted in a Polaroid image from the Becchina archive. In the archival photo the vase is covered with encrustations, lying on what appears to be a plastic tray, while a handwritten note, also in the archives, states that this antiquity was sent for restoration, among other antiquities, on 1 December 1989 to Sandro Cimicchi, Gianfranco Becchina’s usual restorer.

Left - The cup depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - The same cup on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The cup’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1995 (inv. no. 17).
Beazley Archive no. 9024849.

In the Becchina archive, what appears to be the same cup is depicted in a Polaroid image, upside down and partially covered with encrustations, among three other cups. The similarities can be identified from the position of the panthers painted on the lower portion of the cup's body. A handwritten note states that the cups were bought by the middleman Raffaele Monticelli on 4 March 1993. Another handwritten note on the Polaroid states: ‘V/ Hae CH’ [sold to Hae Swiss Francs]. In 2002 Monticelli was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities. (Isman 2011b: 50; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 292) and as recently as today had 22 million euros worth of his real estate assets confiscated by the state for his alleged involvement as an international antiquities trafficker.    

Left - The lekythos depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, United Kingdom, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1992 (inv. no. 23).
Beazley Archive no. 21590.

An object that appears to be the same lekythos is depicted in two professional images from the Becchina archive. A handwritten note states: ‘E Nov 78’.
Left - The lekythos depicted during its confiscation
in a photograph taken by the Italian authorities
 during the raid at Horiuchi’s warehouse in Geneva in 2008.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Anonymous sale; Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 14 November 1986, lot 213.
Formerly private collection, Japan, acquired privately in 1997.


This lekythos was found and confiscated during the raid of the Swiss and Italian authorities at the warehouse of the Japanese dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi in the Geneva Freeport in 2008. The Italian authorities could not prove the illicit origin of this particular lekythos and
although Horiuchi did not supply any documentation to prove the licit origin of the lekythos, the vase was returned to Horiuchi. 

In total the Italian authorities confiscated 337 antiquities from Horiuchi depicted in the Becchina, Medici and Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives. Horiuchi's name also comes up in a 2014 repatriation case involving another Becchina linked antiquity, a 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting a sleeping Ariadne.  

It should also be noted that this same lekythos also appeared at one time on offer at ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery, owned by the Aboutaam brothers, one of whom was convicted in Egypt for antiquities smuggling and the other of whom pleaded guilty to the falsification of at least one customs document. 

In relationship to that listing  the lekythos appeared as ‘SOLD’ on the ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery website. In the October sale listing Christie’s fails to state the name of the consigner, although they do so in the case of the other three lots (Professor Heissmeyer).

In the three first cases, Christie’s ‘due diligence’ seems to have stopped short of tracing the collecting history back one step further, which would have opened the window on the Becchina transactions.  In the fourth case (lot 93), Christie’s record lists the 1986 and 1997 transaction dates in the lekythos’ collecting history, but completely avoids mentioning the authorities’ raid of Horiuchi’s warehouse in Switzerland or the subsequent passage or ownership of the vase by the convicted Aboutaam brothers, through their ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery in New York and Geneva.

In total, these are just four objects in a string of tainted auctions with fairly good documentation proving their likelihood that these objects were looted.  If the art market cannot hold itself to task on objects where there is a known and extensive photographic record of illicit activity how will the art market perform its due diligence on antiquities coming from conflict countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen where no confiscated smuggler dossiers exist?

Due diligence of looted antiquities, be they Italian or conflict-based, has to be meaningful and not merely plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when the objects background looks murky, as is the case with these objects, the art market needs to step up its game and voluntarily refuse to participate in the laundering.

UPDATE - October 01, 2015 Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities prior to the auction scheduled today in London.  

Lynda Albertson






April 2, 2014

Christie's and Bonhams withdraw two objects of antiquity linked to Medici and Becchina archives

Image appears to be draft of 1987 invoice
 on sale of antiquities
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Both Christie's and Bonhams withdrew two objects -- a 2,000 year old Greek glass wine jug (called an oinochoe) and another ancient vessel (known as a pyxis)-- from their antiquities auctions this week that forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis linked to the Medici and Becchina archives.

In an email to ARCA's blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote: "I am also sending you the documents related to the pyxis, which prove that Becchina sold the object to Ariadne Galleries, something that Bonhams failed to mention in the "provenance" section of their catalogue regarding this object." 

The documents, represented by the images here to the right in a bluish tinge and below in a pinkish tinge, appear to be the draft and final copy of an invoice. The pink image is a photograph of an invoice dated November 12, 1987 from U. R. Becchina to Mr. Torkom Demirjian at Ariadne Galleries Inc. at 970 Madison Avenue in New York City “(For definitive sale/no return) no return) for 23 items — 14 terracotta statuettes + 1 Pyxis, 2 Gnathian vessels, 2 Canosan Pyxides, and 4 Corinthian vessels — at a price in U.S. dollars of $21,800 plus a restoration fee of $3,700 for a total of $25,500. The invoice included: "GUARANTEE These items are of the period of the 6th to the 3rd cent. B.C. The authenticity is unconditionally guaranteed."

This is the image of the pink invoice
from Becchina to Ariadne Galleries
regarding the sale of antiquities
Peter Watson, co-author with Cecilia Todeschini of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (Public Affairs, 2007), wrote in The Times ("Auction houses 'handling stolen goods'", April 2):
Christos Tsirogiannis, of the Division of Archaeology at Cambridge University, and formerly a member of the Greek Task Force that oversaw the return of smuggled objects, said that the auction houses should have realised that they were handling illegal objects. “They themselves do not release all the information they have about how these objects reach the market,” he said. “These objects have no real provenance.” 
The objects are believed to be part of hauls gathered during the 1980s and 1990s by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, two notorious Italian dealers. Both men have been convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities. Medici’s archive was seized in 1995 in Geneva, and Becchina’s was seized in Basle in 2002. Between them, the men supplied thousands of illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities, many of which were dug up by mechanical digger, and sold at Sotheby’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some of them were priceless and many still had soil on them. They passed in their thousands through London salesrooms until the traffic was exposed, partly by The Times in 1997. Sotheby’s was forced to discontinue its sales in London. 
[...] 
Mr Tsirogiannis, who has just been awarded his PhD for a thesis on the illicit international antiquities trade, has access to two Polaroid archives of the hauls that were seized by the Italian carabinieri in Switzerland. He noticed that the two objects coming up for sale at Bonhams and Christie’s were identical to two shown in the photographs of the seized archives, in one case dirty and broken before restoration. Invoices and sales receipts also appear to confirm that the objects are illicit. He said: “The object at Christie’s was sold at Sotheby’s in 1988, and that’s all — as anyone knows in this field, that almost certainly means it came from Medici. “The Bonhams object also first surfaced in 1987 and has no provenance outside the trade. There again, that should be a warning sign that the piece was illegally excavated and smuggled. Over the past few years, I have spotted dozens of objects like this being drip-fed on to the market, testing whether the Medici scandal has been forgotten. Each time, I have informed the Italian authorities, who tell me they always contact the auction houses, asking them to withdraw the pieces. They almost never do. I think they have only acted this time because The Times is watching. At this rate, London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the ‘dirty’ antiquities market.”
Watson reported that Christie's said that the company would contact Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Unit to investigate the piece and would return it to Italy if the object was the same as the one identified in the polaroid archive confiscated from Medici.

In an email to the ARCA blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote:
A spokeswoman for Christie's said, regarding Christie's ownership of the oinochoe: 
The work you are referring to was sold through another auction house in 1988. It was then sold last year by Christie’s as part of the the Saeed Motamed collection. Christie’s became the owner after the sale of the work was then cancelled due to accidental damage sustained by the work during storage. 
My comment on this would be: Christie's should have been extra careful when they were exercising their 'due diligence' before the most recent sale, since they are the consigners in their own auction: as it turns out, this is a piece which comes originally from Medici. Christie's did not mention in the 'provenance' section of their catalogue which collection this object came from only last year, nor that the object was damaged during storage. All this exposes their practices even more.
Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote in an email to ARCA:
To echo Lord Renfrew in 2010, when four other antiquities I identified were withdrawn by Bonhams (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/27/bonhams-stolen-roman-sculptures-auction), "London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the 'dirty' antiquities market".
Here's a link to the article in BBC News "'Looted' artifacts removed from auction" (2 April 2014).

Here's a link to Dr. Tsirogiannis' post "Auction houses should do more to rooted out looted antiquities" on the website for Apollo Magazine.

March 27, 2014

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis matches two objects up for auction in London with objects identified in the Medici and Becchina archives

Medici oinochoe (Medici)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Editor-in-Chief

University of Cambridge researcher Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has reviewed the catalogues for three upcoming London auctions and identified two objects to photos in the archives of two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, confiscated by Italian and Greek police who have used them to identify objects looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006.

The three auctions of antiquities will be held at Bonhams on April 1; at Christie's on April 2; and again at Bonhams on April 3 

The first object is Lot 173 in Christie's Sale 1548 described as a Greek Core-Formed Glass Oinochoe from the Eastern Mediterranean, circa 2nd-1st century B.C., with an estimated bid at £4,000 - 6,000 (US $6,604 - $9,906). Christie's "Provenance" -- or what Dr. Tsirogiannis described in his email as the collecting history -- is described as:
"Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198".
"However, I identified the object from a Polaroid image from the Medici archive," Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "We know that Medici consigned hundreds of antiquities to Sotheby's (Watson & Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, 2007)."

The second object is Lot 22 in Bonhams April 3 sale (#21926) described as a Canosan polychrome painted lidded pottery pyxis, circa 3rd century B.C., with an estimated bid at £3,000 - 5,000 (US $5,000 - $8,300).  Bonhams' "Provenance" -- or collecting history -- of the oinochoe is:
"American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s."
"However, I identified the pyxis in two Polaroid images from the Becchina archive (both attached, in the first the object is depicted broken and unclean, in the second the pyxis appears conserved and ready for sale)," Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "I have also found documents which prove that the depicted broken pyxis IS THE SAME as the one put on sale by Bonhams. Also, the same documents prove that Becchina sold the object to Ariadne Galleries, who were involved in other cases of "unprovenanced" antiquities (e.g., see Gill 2013 http://lootingmatters.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/icklingham-bronzes-looking-back.html), Tsirogiannis 2013:10 http://art-crime.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-journal-of-art-crime-spring-2013.html)."

"Why do Christie's and Bonhams still fail to supply the full and correct collecting history of the objects, especially when they advertise their due diligence before the auctions?" Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "Why are these objects depicted in the Medici and the Becchina archives?"

Becchina pyxis in pieces
Becchina pyxis conserved

August 4, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Greek (Late Hellenistic Period)
(2nd century BC - 1st century AD)
Statue of a Young Boy
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis writes on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Since 2006, about 200 antiquities of exceptional quality, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives, have been identified by the Italian authorities as looted, and have been repatriated from North American museums, private collectors, antiquities dealers, galleries and auction houses (for the latest update of the list see Tsirogiannis 2013). Most of these antiquities have been already published and exhibited, with an acknowledgement of their looted past (e.g. Godart & De Caro 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2007: Godart, De Caro & Gavili 2008; ICE 2012; ICE 2013). While details of the acquisitions regarding these looted antiquities were first being published (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2006 and 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2006, Isman 2009), demonstrating that many of these objects had been sold with fabricated collecting histories (e.g. the famous Euphronios krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, now in Rome), new cases started to emerge. This article attempts to trace the true journey of another antiquity, reveals new evidence regarding its collecting history, researches the implications arising and exposes, once again, the way the international illicit antiquities network has been operating in recent years.
Christos Tsirogiannis
Christos Tsirogiannis studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He will shortly receive his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Mr. Tsirogiannis introduces his article with 'Facts and Evidence':
According to the Becchina archive (CD 1, pagina 5, foto 1375), Mario Bruno -- who was known as a "receiver of stolen goods" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:86) and "a major grave-robber" (Isman 2008:30) sold 12 antiquities to Gianfranco Becchina, on 22 August 1987. Among these antiquities was a marble statue of a boy. This is depicted in a cut-in-half Polaroid image, covered with soil, with its head cut and lying on (what appears to be) a white cloth. A bunch of keys and a corkscrew are depicted beside the statue, at the lower left corner of the image, to provide an idea of the statue's scale. A large "X," added later with a blue marker to the image, indicates that the statue was sold by Becchina at some point after 22 August 1987. the image is struck on a notebook page prominently entitled "da Mario 22/8/1987" (from Mario 22/8/1987"). A handwritten entry, referring to this statue, notes:
Statua marmo con testa forse ritratto di figlio di imperatore. pag. cash 45' CH
"Marble statue with head, perhaps portrait of the son of an Emperor. Paid cash 45 [000?] CH [Swiss Francs]." 
At the right side of the image there is a note, in the same blue marker with which the "X" was made: "=V Fried" (but the "V" was written with a thin black pen). The use of the blue marker by Becchina to write "=[V] Fried" suggests that the statue was sold by Becchina a substantial amount of time after it was bought from Bruno (see below). Indeed, all the entries for all 12 antiquities were written with the thin black pen at the time of their acquisition from Bruno; the same blue marker annotates 5 of these objects, indicating that they were sold by Becchina in a later period (there are no further notes on the page regarding a later sale of the remaining 7 antiquities). In the abbreviated code, used by Italian members of the international illicit antiquities network, "V" stands for venduto, "sold" (the same code was used by Medici, see Felch & Frammolino 2011:174). Thus, Becchina's handwritten note means "sold to Frieda."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger was the owner of the antiquities gallery Nefer in Zurich, and maintained strong bonds with Becchina and Symes-Michaelides. Indeed, the same statue of a boy that passed from Bruno to Becchina in August 1987 appeared in the Nefer gallery antiquities catalogue in 1989 (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1989:26, no. 28). As the statue was not included even in the 1988 Nefer antiquities catalogue (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1988), it was probably sold to Becchina to Tchacos about a year later, a gap also suggested by the change of pen to mark the image now in the Becchina archive. In the 1989 Nefer catalogue, the statue is presented clean of soil and with its head attached to its neck. The statue's price (in Swiss Francs) was higher than the highest price mentioned for any other antiquity in the catalogue (no. 38 for 28,000), since it was only available "on request." The entry notes:
"Portrait statue of a young boy. The boy has short hair except for a braid fasted at the back of his head. This hairstyle was considered a good-luck charm for Egyptian youngsters. The boy's youthful features are well-rendered in a round, full face. His head is turned to the right. His childish body is rendered with great skill under the thick himation. The head was broken off in antiquity and reassembled. Marble with yellow brown encrustation on the right side. Flavian, 2nd quarter of the 1st century B.C. [sic]. 86 cm (34 in.)."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger, an Egyptian-born Greek dealer, was involved in several cases of looted antiquities (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195, 227) that have been repatriated to Italy (Gill & Chippindale 2006:312). As part of a deal between Tchacos and the Italian authorities, Frieda Tchacos was given a light sentence: "[...] on September 17, 2002, she was convicted of handling stolen and smuggled goods, and of failing to notify the authorities of the antiquities that came her way. She was given one year and six months' imprisonment, suspended, and fined 1,000 euros" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195). This led to Tchacos' full cooperation. 
The absence of collection history and find-spot, regarding the statue from the Nefer gallery catalogue, combined with the hairstyle and date information, leave unclear whether the statue arrived in Zurich from Egypt, Greece, Italy or anywhere else within the borders of the Roman Empire. However, it is known that Mario Bruno was "a dealer who operated in Etruria and Puglia, where everybody worked, and he would sell the archaeological material abroad" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:154). Moreover, given the condition of the statue as depicted in the Becchina Polaroid image, it seems more likely that the statue was found in Italy, even if it had been transported there in antiquity. 
The same statue of a boy was acquired in 1989 by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, USA and was assigned the accession number 89.24.
This article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA -- available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.