|Attic pelike attributed to the Aegisthus painter|
Source: Alain Truong
The first investigation tied to Becchina is the case involving the two 2,000-year-old ceramic vessels. In 2009, investigators learned about the sale of an Attic red-figured pelike, circa 480-460 B.C. for $80,500, and a red-figured situla, circa 365-350 B.C. for $40,000, at Christie's New York auction house. The investigation determined that these two objects were looted from archeological sites in Italy and smuggled into Switzerland. The ownership of the objects was transferred before they arrived in a Beverly Hills, Calif., gallery and subsequent consignment to Christie's in New York. HSI special agents in New York seized the objects, and upon authentication, both were forfeited for return.The pelike was listed in Christie's pre-sale press release: "SUPERB EXAMPLES OF ROMAN AND GREEK ART HIGHLIGHT CHRISTIE’S SPRING SALE OF ANTIQUITIES", May 4, 2009. The statement noted, "The sale is particularly strong in Greek vases including a large Attic red-figured pelike attributed to the Aegisthus Painter, circa 480-460 B.C. (estimate: $80,000-120,000)...".
The pelike was listed in the post-sale top 10 list as lot 120, "An attic red-figured Pelike, attributed to the Aegisthus painter, circa 480-460 B.C.", as it sold for $80,500. This same post-sale press release stated:
G. Max Bernheimer, International Department Head of Antiquities said: “Today’s strong results show that wonderful objects with clear provenance continue to perform exceedingly well at auction.”We now know that this "clear provenance" was in fact not what it seemed. Indeed the press office for Christie's described the two seized objects as "stolen".
This pelike does not appear to be listed in the Beazley Archive database, though I note that of the four pelikai that are listed, three were found in Italy: Vulci, Adria and Locri.
Does this return herald the start of a new series of investigations into the Becchina archive? If so, we are likely to see a new series of returns to Italy (and other countries).