Showing posts with label Giuseppe Medici. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giuseppe Medici. Show all posts

July 5, 2016

Mediation over Litigation: Looted antiquities to come back to Italy from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Like the world's ambassadors who serve as official envoys, promoting good relations between countries, cooperation between archaeologists, state attorneys, cultural ministries and museums, in furtherance of the return of plundered antiquities, sometimes serve as strange bedfellows in strengthening reciprocal relationships through acts of of cultural diplomacy. 

Over the last eight years the Italian government has successfully brokered repatriations with American museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and the Cleveland Museum for the return of looted antiquities.  But up until yesterday, finding a way to achieve the same results with the internationally acclaimed Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum in Denmark's capital of Copenhagen, had proven anything but fruitful. 

At the heart of the Italian's case, started in 2008, is a calesse, an ornate parade wagon and other funerary objects that date back to the early seventh century B.C.E.,  The funerary objects, long on display at the Glyptotek, came from the looted tomb of a Sabine prince, laid to rest within the Colle del Forno necropolis.  


The Glyptotek purchased the funerary objects in 1970 via Swiss dealer, Robert Hecht, just before the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property entered into force. As can be seen from the letter between the museum's then management and the tainted dealer, its easy to see that those who agreed to the antiquities' purchase had more than a vague idea of the illicit nature of the material being purchased during the transaction. 
A letter from Robert E. Hecht to former Glyptotek director Mogens Gjødesen
dated 1970.  In the letter, Hecht speaks in code using the word 'children' to
describe the archaeological finds from the prince's tomb he plans
to send to Copenhagen. 
In 1970 Hecht worked closely with Giacomo Medici, the now well known Italian antiquities smuggler and art dealer who was convicted in 2004 of dealing in stolen ancient artifacts.  Medici and Hecht laundered Italian cultural property through museums all over the world.

Glyptotek ledger from the late 1970s
show deals with Giacomo Medici
and Robert E. Hecht. 
But after protracted negotiations, some civil, some bitter, the objects that make up the princely tomb from Sabina will now be returned to Italy starting in December of this year and concluding by the end of 2017.  In exchange, the Italian authorities have agreed to provide the Copenhagen museum with long term loans "of significant tomb discoveries from Italy which on a continuous, rotating basis will be featured in the Glyptotek’s forthcoming, large-scale, new exhibition of the whole museum’s collection of antiquities."

The complete joint statement of the agreement between the Italian Authorities and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek can be read in English here and in Italian here. 

The first loaned objects will arrive in Copenhagen in November 2018. The grouping will be composed of artifacts from the ’Tomb of the silver hands' from the Vulci Museum as well as additional votive objects from the necropolis of Capena, Crustumerium and Fidene.

At the time of the announcement, ARCA spoke with Stefano Alessandrini, a consultant to Italy’s public prosecutor’s office who has been working intensively on this case and other Medici and Hecht identification and repatriation cases throughout his career.  Overjoyed with the accord,  he said "finally, after years of work, negotiations, disappointments and hopes rekindled, a great success has been accomplished in the name of Italy's ‘cultural diplomacy.’ I am proud to have been part of this team".  

Alessandrini went on to add that after eight years of sometimes stormy negotiations, the cities of Sabina, Cerveteri and Pyrgi can now, at last rejoice. Speaking of the difficulty in finding an accord that satisfied all sides, Alessandrini praised the work of Italy's antiquities prosecutor, Maurizio Fiorilli, Jeanette Papadopoulos of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and State Prosecutor Lorenzo D’Ascia for their work during the mediation process with the Copenhagen museum.

Alessandrini also praised the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale who, under General Conforti, uncovered the extent of the Medici - Hecht network which ultimately led Italy to successfully bringing these objects home. 

But even as the Glyptotek has agreed to return the funerary artifacts from the tomb at Colle del Forno,  the calesse remains woefully incomplete. 

Paolo Santoro, the archaeologist who led the original licit excavations at Colle del Forno in the 1970s reminds the world, 

"There are other elements missing, who knows who bought them?"

By: Lynda Albertson

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



May 28, 2015

Associated Press: Rome ceremony welcomes return of looted art recovered from museums and auction houses in the United States

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Nicole Winfield reported for The Associated Press on May 26th about the ceremony in Rome where American officials returned stolen art to Carabinieri officials (Rome: US returns 25 looted artifacts to Italy; Vases, frescoes):
The items returned Tuesday were either spontaneously turned over to U.S. authorities or seized by police after investigators noticed them in Christie's and Sotheby's auction catalogues, gallery listings, or as a result of customs searches, court cases or tips. One 17th-century Venetian cannon was seized by Boston border patrol agents as it was being smuggled from Egypt to the U.S. inside construction equipment, police said. 
U.S. Ambassador John Phillips joined Italy's carabinieri art police to show off the haul. It included Etruscan vases from the Toledo Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 17th-century botany books from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a manuscript from the 1500s stolen from the Turin archdiocese in 1990 that ended up listed in the University of South Florida's special collections. 
Winfield reported police assertions that many of the objects had allegedly reached the market through  "Italian dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, both convicted of trafficking in plundered Roman artifacts." You may read more about Medici's activities in the 2007 nonfiction book, The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini. (Watson spoke at ARCA's art crime conference in Amelia in 2011).

Here's a link to a 2012 ARCA Blog post by ARCA CEO Lynda Albertson on the 90 formerly looted objects displayed at the Villa Giulia in Rome that had also been returned (with an explanation about the history of the Etruscan black-figure kelps attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop).




Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/05/26/3809612_us-returns-25-looted-artifacts.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

October 1, 2012

"Art Predators and The Rediscovered Heritage ... the story of recovery" at the National Etruscan Museum in Rome's Villa Giulia shows archaeological fruits of 20 year investigation


Here's a link to a video showing an exhibit, "Art Predators and The Rediscovered Heritage .. the story of recovery",  at the National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome (September 29 through December 15, 2012) of recovered stolen antiquity objects recovered by Italy's Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale), the Justice Department, and archaeologists in an investigation lasting more than two decades.

The Villa Giulia-Museo Nazionale Etrusco is located north of the Piazza del Popolo in the western outskirts of the Villa Borghese (a really long walk from the Galleria Borghese as I once found out).

These hundreds of works of art were stolen by grave robbers in clandestine excavations in Etruria, Puglia, Sicily and Calabria (Google Translation of article by Irene Buscemi, "Predatori d'arte e patrimonio ritrovato in mostra a Roma", September 30, 2012, Il Fatto Quotidiano).  These amphora, kylix (pottery drinking cups) and bronzes were illegally sold in the 1970s and 1980s by merchants and traffickers to famous foreign museums (Getty Museum in Los Angeles, The Metropolitan in New York, and institutions in Australia and Japan).  Two archaeologists, Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini, assisted in the project and curated the exhibit.  Many of these objects were seized from a warehouse in the Free Port of Geneva in 1995 (for more information you may refer to "The Medici Conspiracy" (Public Affairs, 2006) by historian Peter Watson and Italian journalist Cecilia Todeschini).  The Carabinieri used polaroid photographs, charts, and documents found in this investigation to recreate the illicit trade that funneled objects through art collectors and auctions houses such as Sotheby's in London.

Here's a link to the exhibit at the Villa Giulia.  The exhibitors explain here that for the first time the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia is presenting some archaeological materials chosen from among 3,000 artifacts seized in 1995 by the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Projection from the Free Port of Geneva and returned to Italy after a long legal battle based upon documents found in the raid that allowed the Carabinieri and prosecutors to reconstruct the trafficking routes and illegal excavations.  In this illegal operation, objects were illegal dug up out of the ground, moved from Italy to Switzerland, cleaned and then provided paperwork to market the objects to international museums:
The exhibition aims to raise awareness of the general public the hard work done in recent years by the Judiciary, flanked by Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection, with the Guardia di Finanza and the archaeologists of the Superintendent [Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale], which has led to some important results, perceived not only through a high number of artifacts recovered, by especially in the significant drop in illegal excavations at the archaeological sites of Cerveteri, Vulci, and Tarquinia, once the subject of real raids [translated with the help of Google].