Showing posts with label recovered. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recovered. Show all posts

October 22, 2017

Recovered - 200 undocumented ancient objects in Grosseto, Italy

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

Four antiquities collectors in Grosseto stand accused of illicit detention and possession of property belonging to the state after officers from Italy's Guardia di Finanza seized more than 200 undocumented ancient objects uncovered during asset controls in the garden of a villa.  The search and seizure warrant was issued by the Public Prosecutor of Rome.  

Some of the pieces recovered date back to the Roman imperial age and depict various inscriptions and scenes of Mithraism. 

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

In addition to these, law enforcement officers seized marble heads and busts, including the one of Jupiter pictured in the header of this article, and another of Faustina Maggiore.

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

Also seized was an ancient sarcophagus, unfortunately converted into a utilitarian planter, a full-body statue of a female, attic pottery, columns, and pedestals. Many are in poor condition, perhaps due to exposure to the elements. 

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

As part of this investigation, Italy's finance police raided 22 residences in three regions: Lazio, Sicily, and Tuscany. Eleven suspects have been placed under investigation.  

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza
Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

October 12, 2017

Recovered: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian....Stolen


Thirteen Roman-era marble columns, two pedestals, a funerary stele, architectural capitals, amphorae and vases have reportedly been recovered by Italian authorities from INSIDE a private residence in the Santa Teresa area of Anzio, approximately 50 km from Rome. 


Given their large size, many of the objects have been temporarily transported to the Museum Villa Adele at Anzio where the larger of them remain outside the museum near its entrance.

No indications, in initial public reports, state when this seizure occurred or in whose private villa the ancient objects were initially sequestered. The large size of the artifacts, which required heavy transport vehicles to deposit them at the entrance of the museum, leave more questions unanswered than answered.   how could objects this large be stolen and transported inside a private home without raising any alarm bells along the way?









October 6, 2017

Recovered: Antiquities, historic weaponry and a church relic that likely dates to Pope Innocent XI

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
Today, Italy’s Guardia di Finanza unit in Foggia announced the recovery of a large stash of antiquities, antique weaponry and religious art and relics. 

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
In two separate raids between Cerignola and the provincial capital of Foggia GdF officers have recovered 350 archaeological objects including votive statues, two volute craters decorated with moulded Medusa head handles, an impressive quantity of gnathia vases, attic pottery, painted plates, pouring vessels, and ancient jewelry decorated with gold, stone and bronze elements.  

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
According to the superintendence who evaluated the finds, some of the ancient objects likely plundered  from a Roman or Samnite tomb, possibly that of a soldier.

In addition to the antiquities officers recovered a canvas painting taken a few years back from the rural church of Palazzo d'Ascoli in the countryside of Ascoli Satriano, in the province of Foggia and what appears to be slipper, attached with a note proclaiming it belonged to the Blessed Pope Innocent XI (1611-1689).

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
Also recovered were a group of antique firearms dating back to 1600 -1800, as well as modern weaponry. 

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
Two individuals, a 48-year old from Orta Nova and a 61 year old from Cerignola have been taken into custody by the financial police of the provincial command of Foggia charged with illegal possession of weapons, stolen goods and violations of the rules on the protection of cultural heritage.  The latter individual, an attorney, has been released for the present time.  

Recovered by Turkish security forces: Two artworks by "Hoca" Ali Rıza stolen from the Ankara State Museum of Paintings and Sculpture


In August 2012 Hurriyet Daily News highlighted a report produced by Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry that examined more than 5,000 artworks in the country's State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara.  In that report, the ministry identified that it was unable to account for more than 200 artworks from the museum and that several of the pieces apparently missing had subsequently been replaced with poor quality reproductions to disguise their removal.  

Some of the works stolen included artwork by highly valued Turkish artists such as Şevket Dağ, Şefik Bursalu, Zühtü Müridoğlu, Hikmet Ona, and "Hoca" Ali Rıza. 

State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara
When the news of the theft went public, experts and common citizens alike complained that the museum, like many in many countries, did not have an adequate inventory system in place to track and account for artworks moving in and out of the museum and the museum's storage areas.  This vulnerability, it was partially reasoned, worked in the thieves favor. 

A subsequent investigation into the scandal brought 18 individuals in for questioning and three individuals were formally charged and sentenced to prison for their involvement in the affair. 

Cross checks conducted during this investigation revealed that some of the artwork originally listed as missing had instead been loaned out by the museum to government officials to decorate various governmental ministries and unauthorized buildings without proper documentation to account for their transfer.  Adjusting the loss number for artworks later identified off-site, the total number of objects was reduced to 180, and until this week, only sixty-four have been recovered.

Recovered "Hoca" Ali Rıza drawing I 
Yesterday, two drawings by Turkish painter and art teacher "Hoca" Ali Rıza, were seized by Turkish security forces from an art gallery in Istanbul with one individual being taken into custody for questioning.  A artist from the late Ottoman era, Riza is primarily known for his Impressionist landscapes which captured Turkish neighborhoods and architectural elements.  13 of his sketches are known to have been stolen and exchanged with forged replicas.

Recovered "Hoca" Ali Rıza drawing II


September 15, 2017

Recovery: Not all Ecclesiastical art that is stolen is lost forever



The brisk sales of "Individual A" buying objects from "Individual B"

As a result of the complex operation, twenty people are now under investigation by the Italian authorities for robbery, having received stolen goods, or other related violations of the law.  Those that have been charged, some with no prior police records, include middlemen fences who shopped desirable pieces to collectors of religious art who were apparently disinterested in the conspicuous origins of the ecclesiastical pieces they were purchasing.

Modus Operendi

Working to analyze the methodologies used to commit thefts in places of worship in neighboring municipalities, law enforcement officers saw a pattern evolving. 

Each of the thefts had occurred during daytime hours. 

Most of the incidents did not require any type of forced entry. 

To gain access to the objects the thief or thieves preferred to go about their work during opening hours, when the general public had free access to these religious institutions and where they were less likely to be impeded by burglar alarms or video surveillance systems.

Objects Recovered

The objects identified as recovered during this operation is quite extensive and paints a vivid picture of the frequency of church related thefts throughout Italy and in one case Belgium.

One of the more interesting pieces recovered was a 175 × 125 cm a 16th century Flemish panel painting stolen 37 years ago depicting the twelfth station of the cross.  The painting had been taken from the Treasury of the Collegiate of the Church of Sainte-Waudru in Mons, Belgium on July 2, 1980.   Thankfully the church had an inventory of their artworks so the alterpiece has been matched precisely and will be repatriated.

A white marble sculpture depicting a Madonna and child dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century stolen on July 4, 1997 from the church "Santa Marta" (Confraternity Of San Vitale) in Naples.

An 18th century wooden statue, depicting "San Biagio" stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

An 18th century wooden statue of Saint Nicholas of Bari stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

A 16th century stone statue of St Michael the Archangel,  a sword in silver with an ornate blade and a silver oval shield decorated with words "quis ut Deus" stolen on January 19 2016 from the church of San Michele Arcangelo in Monteroduni.

Fifteen 16th century oil paintings on canvas, mounted to panels depicting "The Mysteries of the Rosary", stolen on December 21, 2016 from the Church of Saint Bartolomeo Apostolo in Cassano Irpino.

Two 17th century wooden statues depicting angels, a 17th century gilded throne used for Eucharistic ceremonies, stolen on November 28, 1998 from La Libera church in Montella.

A 19th century monstrance, also known as an ostensorium or an ostensory, in embossed silver stolen on October 11, 2009 from the church "Santa Cristina" in Formicola.

A wooden statue of the baby Jesus and a silver embossed thurible in which incense is burned during worship services, stolen on March 3, 2016 from the church Saint Peter the Apostle in Sala Consilina.

A late 17th century panel painting depicting a river landscape with animals French stolen on July 16, 1990 at the Rome auction house Antonina dal 1890.

A 19th century painted paper mache statue of baby Jesus stolen on January 5, 2010 from the Cathedral of San Cassiano in Imola.

An 18th century silver monstrance, an 18th century silver reliquary with a stippled glass case, an 18th century metal reliquary, stolen on February 10, 2016 from the church of San Lorenzo located in Castelvetere sul Calore.

An 18th century breastplate with helmet, shield and sword, decorated in gold, which once served as ornamentation to a San Costanzo statue was stolen on January 10, 2016 in a burglary of the parish of "Santa Maria Maggiore" in Itri. NOTE:  Many of the other items stolen during this raid have not been recovered.

Two 19th century gilded wood reliquaries stolen on August 25, 2002 from the church of San Giacomo Apostolo in Gaeta.

Four carved and gilded wooden portapalma (holy) vases  stolen on January 31, 2012 from the church of San Francisco in Gubbio.

A gold plated cup,  a gold plated ciborium with matching lid used for eucharistic ceremonies stolen on January 12, 2016 from the church of Saint Lucia located in Olevano sul Tusciano - Salitto fraction.

A pendulum clock with bronze lyre-shaped inlays stolen on August 25, 1994 from a private residence in Rome.

A 19th century paper mache figurine depicting the Christ child stolen on November 5, 2009 from the church of Saint Augustine in Faenza.

Two 18th century winged putti, stolen on January 5, 2016 from the church of Saints John and Paul in Carinola (Ce) - Casale fraction.

An 18th century oil painting on canvas depicting baby Jesus lying with crown of flowers stolen on August 14, 1994 from a private residence in Lanciano.

An 18th century monstrance with silver and gold metal cross stolen September 29, 2015 from the church Santa Maria dell’orazione located in Pontelatone.

An 18th century chalice embossed and engraved in silver stolen on July 15, 2015 from the church of San Quirico and Julietta located in Serra San Quirico (An).

A 19th century monstrance in embossed silver stolen on January 20, 2016 from the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli located in Contursi Terme..

An 18th century silver reliquary engraved with "nm" stolen on October 4, 2011 from the parish of "Santa Maria Assunta" in Filettino.

August 26, 2017

Yes Virginia, there really are honest dealers in the world.


University of Arizona Museum of Art Curator Olivia Miller
authenticating Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre,”
on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.  The painting has been missing since 1985
Often times it seems that antique and antiquities dealers are seldom mentioned on this blog unless there is negative news to share.  Today though, ARCA would like to give a shout out to some really swell folks at Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques of Silver City, New Mexico. 

On the day after Thanksgiving, November 29, 1985, an unremarkable couple:  a woman in her mid-50s with shoulder-length reddish-blond hair and a man in his mid-20s, with short, wavy dark hair and a large mustache entered the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson at the start of the day.  Distracting one of the guards in a conversation on the stairs, the man continued upwards to the second floor gallery and quickly sliced Willem de Kooning's painting "Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning, 1954-1955, 30 in. x 40 in., oil on canvas from its frame.   Hiding the painting under his blue water-repellant coat, the thief and his accomplice made their way back downstairs and out the exit in less than 15 minutes.  

For more than thirty years the painting remained missing, until it was scooped up by David Van Auker, who owns Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques when visiting the home of deceased H. Jerome "Jerry" and Rita Alter to assess its contents as part of an estate sale.  Along with his business partners Richard Dean Johnson and Buck Burns Auker purchased the house's contents, including the painting for $2000.

Back at the shop and with a little help from their customers, the trio soon began to realize that they might have a valuable painting on their hands.  Doing a quick internet search on de Kooning, they came across a 2015 article on azcentral.com of one of the artist's paintings, “Woman-Ochre,” that had been stolen in a daring heist from the University of Arizona Museum.  Matching the photograph pictured on the website with the painting in their shop, the guys decided to do the right thing and give the museum a call.


If you want a chuckle, take a look at their video above, taken from their Facebook page here.   It will make your day, because yes Virginia, there really are honest dealers in the world who do the right thing when they find looted art.

February 16, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017 - , No comments

Recovered: Abraham Lincoln's hand Sculpter

Image Credit: Kankakee Police Dept
A little over one year ago, a 150 year old plaster sculpture of Abraham Lincoln's hand was stolen from its display shelf at the Kankakee County Museum in Illinois, one hour south of Chicago.  Created by a Kankakee native, George Grey-Barnard, it was the museum's custodian who first noticed that the $5000 sculpture had gone missing sometime before December 11, 2015.  

At the time of the theft, the museum had no CCTV cameras and a campaign was started to collect the $8,900 needed for security upgrades to protect the museum from thefts in the future. 

Lamenting the loss to the museum's modest collection authorities hoped that the theft was a prank. 

With no witnesses and no suspects, Kankakee police appealed to the community via social media and on its Facebook Page to be on the lookout, hoping that with the publicity, the thief would simply return the object, described as being: "The size of a 8-10 pound ham." But despite citizen outrage and the cumbersome size of the sculpture, no one stepped forward to return the pilfered sculpture.

Until now. 

When someone left Lincoln's stolen hand at the back of Kankakee's Saint Rose of Lima Parish Church on Sunday, February 12, 2016, where it was discovered by a church usher. 

For most Illinoisans, February 12th is an auspicious day worth remembering for anyone who holds sentimental feelings for America's 16th Republican Party president.   

Was it a pang of personal guilt that caused the thief to return "Honest Abe's" hand, or perhaps a statement on American politics?  

Only the thief will ever know. 

By Lynda Albertson




February 11, 2017

Recovered: More paintings with ties to 'Ndràngheta

“Miracolo di Gesù” (guarigione del nato cieco) 
Italian law enforcement knew they were onto something when a search warrant executed on the apartment of a pensioner in Reggio Calabria turned up a religious painting. Cross checking the canvas, which depicted Christ healing a blind man, with images in "Leonardo", the Italian database of stolen cultural properties overseen by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the officers' search query came back with a positive match to a painting stolen in Randazzo, Sicily in 2001.

A second search warrant was then executed on another apartment in Messina, Sicily titled to the same individual where thirteen other artworks were recovered.


The artworks recovered in Messina are:

“Paesaggio” signed with the initials “a.s.”
“Uomo con Cappello” signed with the initials “bv”
“Natura Morta” by Giuliana Cappello
“Nudo di Donna” by Giuliana Cappello
“Tree and Head” by Salvator Dalì
“Figure su Sfondo Rosso”, by Renato Guttuso
“Combattimento Tra Due Galli” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Folla con Sfondo Sole Rosso e Volto Barbuto” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescatore” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescivendolo” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Veduta Urbana con Persone”, by Mario Pinizzotto
“Ponte Vecchio”
A bust of Christ 

The artworks are believed to be a small portion of the collection of 78 year old Calabrian businessman Gioacchino Campolo, who was sentenced in 2011 to 18 years house arrest for criminal association, extortion and usury jointly by the Casalesi clan of the Camorra and the De Stefano 'ndrina, one of the most powerful 'Ndràngheta clans in Reggio Calabria.

Gioacchino Campolo 
With an estimated €320 million in assets Campolo needed a creative form of investment.  He transformed his profits from crime and corruption into forty real estate holdings in Paris, Rome and Reggio Calabria and by buying noteworthy artworks. In 2013, the Italian government formally confiscated 125 works from his collection including paintings by Salvador Dalì, Giorgio De Chirico, Bonalumi, Carrà, Lucio Fontana, Renato Guttuso, Domenico Purificato, Rosai, Mario Sironi, Antonio Ligabue and many others.

Those art works are now part of a permanent exhibition titled “From shadow to light,” housed in a four thousand square meter gallery at the Palace of Culture in Reggio Calabria.


The owner of the properties where the 2017 recent cache of artworks were recovered has been charged with receiving stolen goods and is reported to possibly be a former employee.

By: Lynda Albertson

December 28, 2016

Recovered: 5 paintings stolen from the Levitan House Museum in Plyos, 3 arrests made.

© Russian Interior Ministry
Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk has issued a statement relaying that Russian authorities have arrested three individuals, ages 29, 33, and 37, for their suspected involvement in the August 5, 2014 3:00 am theft of five paintings by 19th century classical landscape painter Иса́ак Ильи́ч Левита́н (Isaak Levitan).  The artworks were originally stolen by two individuals from the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, a small town located on the Volga river in the Ivanovo Region where the painter lived and worked for a period of time. 

With the arrest of these three suspects, authorities have recovered all five of the stolen paintings.  The artworks are:

"Ravine behind the fence"
"A Quiet Pool"
"A Quiet River"
"Railway Stop"
"Roses"

One of Russia's most significant and celebrated landscape artists, Levitan's naturalistic scenes, depicting and tranquil forests and countrysides, introduced a new genre of paintings which came to be known as the mood landscapes. The artist's body of work includes approximately 1,000 paintings, sketches and drawings with the bulk of his work being held in Russian museums. At the time of the artworks theft, the five stolen paintings were estimated to be worth 77 million rubles ($1.3 million). 

According to the Interior Ministry, the three criminals arrested in this case were said to have been involved in a series of other crimes including an armed highway robbery of cash-in-transit couriers this past November in the Nizhny Novgorod region and an earlier May 2016 bank robbery of the Nizhny Novgorod Bank where the crooks made off with more than 5 million rubles ($82,200). 

Officers working a joint investigation involving the Main Criminal Investigation Department of the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service, CID GU MVD of Russia in Nizhny Novgorod region, and the CID AMIA Russia's Ivanovo region executed a series of search warrants.   During one, of a house in the Moscow region, Russian Interior Ministry authorities seized more than one kilogram of cocaine and recovered one of the five stolen artworks there-by detaining two suspects.  Russian Interior Ministry in Nizhny Novgorod then recovered the other four stolen paintings during a secondary search warrant of another location.

In the course of an interview with Russian media, Alla Chayanov, director of the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, reminded the public that the theft of well known, catalogued and inventoried artworks of whatever financial value, are largely unsaleable on the licit art market where famous stolen works of art are easily recognised.   In cases such as this artworks only have value on the black market, usually as an alternative currency within the criminal world. 

A video of the recovery of four of the artworks can be seen in the news report below. 


As formal possessions of the Russian Federation, the recovered artworks will now be evaluated for authenticity by the matching of their accession numbers.  They will then likely be sent for conservation evaluation prior to being returned to the public's viewing. 

December 21, 2016

Museum Theft Identification: Louvre Museum "Le Campement de bohémiens" by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860)
Le Campement de bohémiens, Oil on wood - 18 x 24.8 cm 
In a developing story, first reported by France's La Tribune de l'Art, a stolen painting, Le Campement de bohémiens, believed to be by the artist Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, has been identified in an online auction catalog at the Paris auction house Hôtel Drouot

The artwork was first spotted by Xavier de Palmaert, who in turn notified Jacques Ranc, an art historian working on Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps catalog raisonné.  The painting on auction is believed to be one of 17 by the artist bequeathed to the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1902 from the collection of Thomy Thiéry.  Not on display at the time of its disappearance, the artwork was identified as being missing during an inventory check on January 15, 1977 and is believed to have been taken from the museum sometime between 1973 and 1977. 


2833 — Le Campement de bohémiens. 

Devant un mur dégradé, des bohémiens, un homme, une femme et uhc fillette, ont allumé du feu et font bouillir la marmite. La femme, au premier plan, misérablement vêtue, est assise sur une pierre ; l'homme, assis à terre, à gauche, est appuyé contre le mur du fond, tandis que la fillette debout, à droite, la pincette à la main, surveille le feu qu'abrite une vieille porte de bois. Quelques récipients grossiers sont à terre. 

Signé sur une pierre, à droite : Decamps. 

Bois. Haut., 18 cent.; larg., 24 cent. 

Collections J. Fan, Véron, dit Taillis, H. Didier. 
M"'"' la baronne Nath. de Rothschild et Denain. 
Catalogue Moreau, p. 193. 

(Translated in English)
2833 - The Gypsy Camp. 

In front of a degraded wall, gypsies, a man, a woman and a young girl, lit the fire and boil the pot. The woman in the foreground, miserably clad, sat on a stone; man, sitting down, left, is leaning against the back wall, while the girl standing, right, tongs in hand, watching the fire beside an old wooden door. Some containers thrown crudely down. 

Signed [by the artist] on a stone, on the right: Decamps. 

Wood. 18 cent .; 24 cent.

Collections J. Fan, Véron, dit Taillis, H. Didier. 
Miss Baroness Nath. Of Rothschild and Denain.
Catalog Moreau, p. 193.



Considered by some to be the founding father of Orientalism, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps was one of the first French painters of the 19th century to turn from Neoclassicism to Romanticism.  Due to his influence, Decamps is likely one of the most copied and forged artists of the nineteenth century.

For Mr. Ranc to consider this work as potentially authentic is a big statement, especially as he has been vocal about the number of fakes or copies or "in the manner ofs" Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps artworks that are part of museum collections.

Hôtel Drouot has long been one of France’s most venerable and prestigious auction houses.  In March 2016 a scandal broke when 40 of the firm's self-governing and self-employed corps of porters, known as the ‘red collars’ indicted for pilfering' thousands of items. 

For the moment, the painting has been removed from sale pending the official demand for restitution by the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication in France. 

Further details of the painting's history and provenance found on the Ministry's cultural patrimony portal: 

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps
Photo Credit: Eugene Disdéri
Domaine: peinture
Dénomination: tableau
Titre: Le Campement de Bohemiens
Auteur/exécutant: DECAMPS Alexandre Gabriel
Précision auteur/exécutant: Paris, 1803 ; Fontainebleau, 1860
Ecole: France
Période création/exécution: 2e quart 19e siècle
Matériaux/techniques: peinture à l'huile ; bois
Dimensions: H. 18, l. 24.8
Inscriptions: signé
Précision inscriptions: Decamps (S.mi-h.d.)
Sujet représenté: scène (nomade, préparation des aliments)
Lieu de conservation: Paris ; musée du Louvre département des Peintures
Musée de France: au sens de la loi n°2002-5 du 4 janvier 2002
Statut juridique: propriété de l'Etat ; legs ; musée du Louvre département des Peintures
Date acquisition: 1902
Anciennes appartenances: Thomy Thiéry
Numéro d'inventaire: RF 1386
Bibliographie: Catalogue des peintures du Louvre, I, Ecole Française, Paris, 1A972, p. 121 ; Catalogue sommaire illustré des peintures du musée du Louvre et du musée d'Orsay, Ecole française, III, Paris, 1986, p. 190



December 20, 2016

Recovered: 9 Illicit antiquities from Puglia, Italy

Nine archaeological objects from clandestine excavations conducted in northern Puglia have been recovered as the result of two separate investigations led by Italy’s art crime police, the Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and are now on temporary display at the Museo dei Vescovi di Canosa in Puglia.

Among the objects recovered are two Apulian polychrome craters dating back to IV-III century. BCE, which had been illegally exported to the United States and placed up for auction. 


Among the other finds are two Kylix wine goblets, a bell crater with floral and geometric decorations and a Roman-era aphora found during a routine check in an antique store. At the end of the exhibition the objects will be turned over to the archaeological superintendency responsible for the areas of Barletta, Andria, Trani and Foggia.

The artifacts recovered are pictured below. 





December 6, 2016

Recovered: Two stolen Roman leaden coffins, one recovered from an auction house in Cirencester, UK

Looted from a 2004 excavation at a building site off Napier Road in Colchester, UK, two Roman-era decorative leaden coffin lids have been recovered by PC Andy Long, the Wildlife, Heritage and Environmental Crime Officer for the Essex Police. 

According to UK news website The Daily Gazette one coffin had been placed up for sale at an unnamed auction house in Cirencester.  The second was found at the house of the consignor, 140 km away near Melton Mowbray.  The news website states that the would-be seller, who reportedly has dementia, told law enforcement authorities that he was unaware of the fact that the two coffins had been stolen from an archaeological site.  Quoting a statement made by PC Long the gazette wrote “He bought them from a digger driver who was working on a building site in Colchester in 2004. He was told they had been offered to the museum and they didn’t want them.”

A quick search of auction houses in Cirencester, who happen to be selling Roman coffin lids, revealed just one: Dominic Winter Auctions.  The item once listed on their October 06, 2016 auction has had all of its details deleted,  leaving only a simple notice saying "withdrawn".

A quick check using Google's cache gives us the missing auction listing whose photos match the image appearing in the Gazette with Officer Long and Emma Holloway of the Colchester Archaeological Trust.



Interestingly the provenance details supplied by the auction house (see screen shot below) differ considerably from the details given by the consignor in the news article.  The Lot details at the Dominic Winter Auction states:

Roman Coffin. A museum quality Roman lead tapering coffin lid, probably 4th century, wet sand-cast lead with cast decoration comprising bead and reel borders dividing into three sections, central section with scroll pattern, end sections divided with saltire cross of bead and reel, three of the quadrants filled with scallop shell (pecten), the last with a circle, sometime broken into three sections, 119 x 34 cm (47 x 13 ins) Rare. Purchased by the present owner from metal detectorist Alan Pickering who discovered the piece together with another similar in Suffolk in the 1970s. In 1977 Toller recorded just 243 Roman lead coffins in Britain and only a handful more have been discovered since. (1)


So who misled who?  Did the consignor give the law enforcement officer one story in a forgetful state and the auction house another?  A find spot in Suffolk around 1970 is quite a contrast to 2004 Colchester when the objects had been left in situ ahead of the redevelopment of the site. 

Or was Alan Pickering nighthawking? 

According to visitor guides produced by the friends of the Colchester Archaeological Trust 



As Hugh Toller noted in his 1977 catalog of lead coffins of Roman Britain that the distribution of lead coffins was likely reflective less of the location of lead resources of a given geographical area, than it was of the ‘wealth in Roman Britain’.  According to this researcher, the majority of the 243 lead coffin pieces found leading up to the writing of his book were found in graves located in south-eastern and southern Britain, with nearly 55% of these coming from cemeteries directly associated with major urban centers, particularly Colchester, Dorchester, London, and York.

To more closely identify the find spot of the object once on auction, let's compare the decorative details on the leaden lid pictured in the Gazette's tweet with Officer Long and Emma Holloway of the Colchester Archaeological Trust.  This object's relief illustrates beading layed out in a "X" motif alongside a scallop shell.
The design work matches similarly with artwork appearing on another leaden coffin excavated from the historically rich St. Mary's area in Colchester. 

Colchester garrison site excavated by Colchester Archaeological Trust
Given the closely matching decoration of the seized objects to those previously studied by archaeologists, it is possible to assume that both objects may have been designed by the same craftsman.  But to know for sure, one would need to try and date both objects.   To do so with accuracy would require a find spot and an osteoarchaeologist familiar with bones and human remains who could help us build a picture of the person once buried inside the ancient coffin.

But then again, we have no idea where the human remains once held in the looted coffins were dumped.  When archaeologists argue about the importance of context and why looting is detrimental this is a powerful example.

Was it really worth £1000-£1500 to disturb someone's final resting place?

Sometimes in archaeology, the truth is found in our bones, and either out of respect for the dead or respect for the culture of Roman Britain, these coffins, and the persons once buried inside them, deserved more care and respect. 

________________________________

Toller, Hugh, 1977. Roman Lead Coffins and Ossuaria in Britain. BAR British Series 38. Oxford.

Russell, Benjamin, 2010. Sarcophagi in Roman Britain. In: Bollettino di Archeologia On Line, Vol. Special Volume.

August 7, 2015

Ames Stradivarius owned by Roman Totenberg Recovered 35 years after theft


by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The New York Times reported August 6 (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/roman-totenbergs-stolen-stradivarius-is-found-after-35-years.html) that a Stradivarius violin stolen back in 1980 was recovered in June this year, and has been returned to the family of the original owner.

The Ames Stradivarius recovered by the F.B.I. in June.
(Credit Federal Bureau of Investigation, via Associated Press)


The ‘Ames Stradivarius’ was created by the legendary Italian violin-maker Antonio  Stradivarius in 1734. By 1980 it had been owned and played by Roman Totenberg, a well-known violin player and teacher, and director of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., for nearly 40 years.  At the time of the theft, which happened during a reception following a concert, the violin was said to be valued at $250,000.

Saratoga Herald-Tribune, Friday May 16, 1980, page 5-A.
Michael Cooper reported in The NYT that the violin re-appeared earlier this year after an unnamed woman, who recounted that she had inherited the violin from her late ex-husband, sought advice from an appraiser. The appraiser immediately recognised both that it was a genuine Stradivarius, and that it was the stolen Ames Stradivarius.  The appraiser contacted the FBI’s Art Theft team, who immediately verified the identity of the instrument and took possession of it.

As noted in The NYT, it seems that the now deceased ex-husband was suspected of the theft by Mr Totenberg (who died in 2012) right from the start:
Ms. Totenberg [Roman Totenberg’s daughter] said that the woman had inherited the violin from the man Ms. Totenberg’s father had suspected all along of stealing the instrument. The man had been seen in the vicinity of his office at Longy near the time of the theft, and a woman once visited Mr. Totenberg and told him that she believed that the man had stolen his violin. But to the family’s frustration, investigators at the time apparently did not believe that the tip was sufficient for them to obtain a search warrant.
The family had received an insurance pay-out at the time of the theft. That has now been repaid, and the instrument will be restored and sold:
“[The family are] going to make sure that it’s in the hands of another great artist who will play it in concert halls all over the world,” she said. “All of us feel very strongly that the voice has been stilled for too long.”

May 15, 2014

Dutch media reports that Gutmann family porcelain auctioned in 1934 ended up in museums in The Netherlands

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Dutch art investigator Arthur Brand sent me a link to an article posted in English on May 14 by Maxime Zech in the NLTimes.nl, "Nazi-stolen art in Rijksmuseum, Palace Het Loo:Report". I asked Mr. Brand if people in The Netherlands were surprised, and here's his response:
Yes, people are highly surprised. Just recently an extensive search has been closed and those items were not discovered. Some huge names are involved. There is no doubt that these 15 items, divided amongst five museums, including Palace Het Loo and the Rijksmuseum, have to be considered as looted. They were all auctioned in 1934 and that particular auction has been considered by both the German and Austrian government as being an "involuntary sale". This absolutely does not mean that the Palace or the museums did know that they once bought looted art. Far from that: this is a worldwide problem that just shows that we have done too little, too late regarding provenance-research...
Here's the article:
The art collection of Palace Het Loo, the Rijksmuseum and three other museums are thought to include pieces and artifacts that were looted from a Jewish family during a Nazi plunder, the Telegraaf reports. In total, 15 pieces of a valuable Meissen porcelain dinnerware ware set may have been stolen from the Gutmann family. The items may have been put up for auction in 1934 under coercion from the Nazis. Now, 80 years after the fact, Amsterdam investigation bureau Artiaz was able to trace the pieces, to the museums. “We are taking this very seriously, and are going to establish an origins research action immediately”, a spokesperson of the Paleis Het Loo National Museum Foundation said in a reaction.
Artiaz traced the dinnerware set pieces by looking through old auction documents.
“Salacious is that the Ekkart commission concluded a big investigation into looted art in Dutch museums without detecting these set pieces”, says Arthur Brand who executed the investigations with David Kleefstra and Alex Omhoff. 
The Facts and Files bureau in Berlin investigated the case for the Gutmann family, who live in Germany, and concludes that the 15 porcelain gravy boats and plates were still registered as lost until yesterday. “We are expecting that the Gutmanns will request us to contact the Netherlands State and the Restitution Commission, so that the pieces can hopefully return to the family” says investigator Beate Schreiber. The items are part of a unique 435-piece Meissen dinnerware set depicting village scenes, which was given to Willem V around 1774 as a gift from the United East-Indian Company. The prince sold the set during exile in England. Later, 26 items were bought by Herbert Gutmann, son of banker Eugen Gutmann who set up the Dresdner Bank. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they saddled him with a sky high debt.

June 1, 2013

Alberge for The Observer on "Art Detective warns of missing checks that let stolen works go undiscovered"

Dayla Alberge wrote for The Observer on June 1, 2013 in "Art Detective warns of missing checks that let stolen works go undiscovered: Case of 17th-century landscape highlights failure of European auction houses, dealers and collectors to carry out searches" Christopher A. Marinello of the Art Loss Register found a landscape (beach) painting at an Italian auction house.

"We do find a lot of stolen and looted artwork in civil law countries such as Italy, France and Germany. Consigners of tainted works of art often try to hide behind the good-faith purchase laws of these countries while performing little or no due diligence," Marinello told Alberge.

The 1643 work, by 17th century Dutch artist Jan van Goyen, a 'pioneer of naturalistic landscape painting' was, according to the article, stolen from: the home of Paul Mitchell, an antique picture frame specialist in London in 1979:
'The thieves forced open a window to enter his house. Mitchell assumed that the slight noise that he heard from downstairs was the family cat. "Police call these people 'creepers', night-time burglars who specialise in burgling people when they are in their house," Mitchell said. Describing waking to discover the theft, he added: "The anguish is a very long, deep-seated thing which never really goes away. Hardly a day goes by when I haven't thought about it.
'The loss of the pictures was also painful because of their sentimental value [Marinello]. They belonged to his father, but had become so valuable that Mitchell could not afford to insure them for their full worth. Back in 1979, the paintings were valued £5,000 reward for their recovery, placing advertisements in international journals and approaching a specialist art detective. But the trail went cold.
'It surfaced by chance a few weeks ago after a Dutch dealer tried to buy it in Italy. Before paying for it, he decided to check the database of the Art Loss Register (ALR), which tracks down the world's stolen art from its headquarters in London.'
'Negotiations were particularly delicate because, under Italian law, if someone buys a stolen work in good faith the buyer is sometimes entitled to keep it.'