Thursday, January 17, 2008

Marcus Aurelius and the Paris Connection

A Roman marble portrait of Marcus Aurelius has been returned to Algeria ("Bust of Roman emperor back in Algerian hands" / "Algérie: Les Etats-Unis restituent à l'Algérie un buste de Marc Aurèle", Agence France Presse, January 16, 2008). It had been stolen from the Skikda Museum, Algeria, in 1996.

The portrait had surfaced at a sale preview at Christie's, Rockefeller Plaza, New York in June 2004. It was spotted thanks to help from Interpol and the Art Loss Register: a New York court decided in December 2006 that it should be returned to Algeria. The English language press release notes that it had been consigned by "a Paris art gallery". This was in fact "Galerie Samarcande" (on rue des Saints-Pères) which is listed as selling "Sculptures Anciennes, Archéologie, Arts d'Asie, Art Islamique, Mobilier & Objets d'Art, Haute Epoque: Moyen Âge à Renaissance". The gallery is a member of "Syndicat National des Antiquaires" (SNA):
Unis par un code éthique dont les principes sont Authenticité - Qualité - Honorabilité, ses membres se distinguent par le panonceau du Syndicat National des Antiquaires.
The SNA website (checked today) gives the proprietor as Joseph Uzan - and this raises a problem.

Souren Melikian ("Some Solutions to the Looting of Cultures: On the Eve of Destruction?", IHT, January 17, 1998) reported exactly ten years ago:
Joseph Uzan who ran the Galerie Samarcande on Rue des Saints-Peres closed down and in 1996 sold his stock at Drouot.
Was this report premature? I note that the gallery was exhibiting in Basel in 2000 ("Avec "Cultura", Bale veut devenir le rendez-vous mondial des arts anciens", AFP, October 14, 2000) and 2002 ("Von Ganymed zu Buddha; Vorbericht zur Kunst- und Antiquitätenmesse "Cultura" in Basel", Die Welt, October 12, 2002).

What else has Galerie Samarcande been consigning for auction?

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