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

Friday, October 3, 2014

The private collector and museum donation

One of the issues that needs to be considered is how some private collectors have been passing on their acquisitions within months or a couple of years. What does this say about the relationship between the museum and the collector?

The issue becomes all the more interesting if the donations include objects that feature in the Medici archive.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Paestan krater and the Medici Dossier

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has published an essay (Journal of Art Crime, 2014) on the Paestan bell-krater attributed to Python presently in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 1989.11.4). The krater, illustrated in the MMA's Art of the Classical World (no. 184), was purchased from the Bothmer Purchase Fund.

Tsirogiannis notes that the krater appears in 5 Polaroid images from the Medici Dossier. The choice of background is more than significant. He observes that the krater surfaced through Sotheby's in New York in June 1989. This raises a question about the quantity of material that was consigned to New York from Medici. (Were the issues raised by Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story applicable beyond London?)

Will the Met be contacting the Italian authorities now that this new evidence has come to light?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

James Ede responds to Christos Tsirogiannis

London-based antiquities dealer James Ede has responded to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in Apollo ("In Defence of the Antiquities Trade", April 11, 2014). Ede is right to suggest that the scandal  --- is there another word that could be used? --- relating to recently surfaced antiquities has been "embarrassing" for those involved in the market. And it is surely appropriate for Tsirogiannis (and others) to draw attention to the need for the application of a rigorous due diligence process to be applied to objects offered for sale.

There is a suggestion by Ede that the photographic dossiers from Medici, Becchina and Symes are not available to authorities and to the Art Loss Register. I am aware of a case (in London) where the ALR was aware of the appearance of an object in the Medici Dossier and had informed the auction house who had still proceeded with the sale.

Ede cannot be unaware of the huge damage that was sustained to the reputation of Sotheby's in London following the detailed investigative book by Peter Watson that revealed the way that antiquities moved from Italy, India and elsewhere to the London market. The research undertaken by Tsirogiannis (and others) has been able to reveal the networks that allow the material to cross international frontiers.

Ede asks for the evidence that the objects were "stolen". Why do so many of the objects in the Polaroid photographs still show the objects in a broken and uncleaned state? These do not appear to be items that had been residing in some private collection. Rather there is the suggestion that they were fresh out of the ground when the photographs were taken. "Stolen" is an interesting word to use, and one used by the press officer of Christie's to describe objects identified from the polaroid photographs.

Ede concedes that some ("many") of the objects handled by Medici and Becchina entered the market "illicitly". It is therefore important for dealers and auction-houses to identify objects handled by Medici, Becchina, Symes (and others) in the collecting histories.

Have the changes in the market in the last twenty years --- 25 years takes us to the period before the Medici scandal broke --- been the result of enlightened dealers, or the concern that photographic evidence would emerge? Ede draws attention to the IADAA's Code of Ethics and to the removal of membership from some dealers. (He does not give their names, but see here.)

Ede suggests that documentation is hard to find. Yet the Medici Conspiracy places the emphasis on the need to demonstrate the authenticated collecting history for an object before it is offered on the market. The Conspiracy has shown us the way that "oral histories" have been supplied to mislead buyers.

Ede reminds us of Syria. The full collecting histories of a pair of statues now on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are not without interest. And material from Egypt is not without significance.

Ede wants the "legitimate trade" in antiquities to flourish. To do so, those handling recently surfaced antiquities need to work co-operatively with authorities seeking to return items to archaeological collections in the countries where they were discovered. I am aware of a number of cases where auction-houses and dealers (including a member of IADAA) have ignored photographic evidence linking items to the networks that handled recently surfaced antiquities.

The article in The Times is a reminder that we cannot be complacent about how objects have moved from archaeological contexts to the market.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

The Medici Archive and a London sale

My Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that a Greek core-formed glass oinochoe being offered at Christie's London next week (April 2, 2014, lot 173) seems to appear in the Medici Dossier. The estimated price is £4000-£6000. It had surfaced through Sotheby's in London (Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198). The oinochoe also appears to be owned or co-owned by Christie's: "From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot".

As Christie's have an interest in this piece, can we assume that they will be contacting the Italian authorities?

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Looking at persuasive circumstantial evidence"

Returned from Dallas.
Source: Dallas Museum of Art
Julia Halperin and Javier Pes have written about the attitude of North American museums towards repatriation ("US museums' about-face on restitution", The Art Newspaper, February 2014). There are comments from Kaywin Feldman, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, who now holds a more informed position than the one presented in December 2010: "It’s been a landslide change in collecting policy, procedures and ethics". There is a reference to the return of the Athenian red-figured krater (September 2011) that was recognised from the Medici Dossier and thence to hands of Robin Symes. Maxwell Anderson was also interview indicating his proactive position that led to the voluntary return of a range of objects from Dallas.

Feldman reports that some potential donors are "frustrated" by the new AAMD Guidelines. But it has probably saved some potentially damaging acquisitions. And Fordham University would have been wise to have researched a donation from a private collection.

The report mentions the Egyptian mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum that is known to have been excavated at Saqqara but somehow left its place in an archaeological store. Although the collecting history that was provided cannot be accurate, an official from SLAM was quoted as saying that the museum's "position on its legal ownership of the mask has not changed". This position contrasts with Anderson's transparent ethical stance for Dallas.

I am quoted in the report and call for improved documentation for acquired objects. Published collecting histories need to demonstrate the authenticated sources.

And the Art Newspaper notes that social media allow individuals to identify material that has been acquired my museums. So we can expect more returns.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Medici Pan: Update

Following the identification of a Pan in the Medici Dossier, Sotheby's New York withdrew the lot from the sale. Such responsible behaviour reflects the seriousness that the auction-house takes over the due diligence process.

The Hermes-Thoth that had once been handled by Robin Symes sold for $4,645,000 (estimate: $2.5 - $3.5 million).

The entire sale netted $16,243,000.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Medici and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Cambridge University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another ancient object from the Medici dossier. He has identified a Gnathian askos acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1980 from images seized in the Geneva Freeport. The item was derived from Fritz Bürki whose name is associated with many of the returns from North American collections to Italy.

According to AAMD Guidelines the curatorial staff at VMFA will need to contact the Italian authorities.

  • Tsirogiannis, C. 2013. "Nekyia. From Apulia to Virginia: an Apulian Gnathia askos at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts." Journal of Art Crime 10: 81-86.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

An East Greek Bronze Warrior from the Medici Dossier

Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis has reminded me of some of the images from the Medici Dossier that have been published in Greece. One shows a series of small bronzes lined up on shelving, some with sale tags attached. The image includes a small bronze of a running warrior. It is clear that one of the legs has been damaged.

This bronze appears to be close to the one due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefeller Centre on June 6, 2013 (lot 543). The collecting history is:

  • Thétis Foundation, Geneva, acquired prior to 1987; sold at Sotheby's, London, 23 May 1991, lot 77.

So what was the full collecting history of the bronze prior its acquisition by the Thétis Foundation?

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Two Canosan kraters returned to Italy

This time last year I was commenting on identifications made by Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis. He spotted that a pair of Canosan krater that were due to be auctioned in the June 2012 sale at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza could be identified from the polaroids in the Medici Dossier.

The research did not go unnoticed. The pair of kraters were returned to Italy on 14 September 2012. Investigative journalist Fabio Isman informs us that they are currently in an exhibition of repatriated antiquities at the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant' Angelo in Rome (20 May -5 November 2013).

Tsirogiannis has written up the work for the next number of the Journal of Art Crime (2013). The detail is telling but readers of LM can wait for the publication.

This return demonstrates that items identified from the Medici Dossier (and this should be extended to the Becchina and Schinoussa archives) are perceived as "toxic". This is not the first time that such a return has been made from this auction house.

Readers of LM will be aware that Tsirogiannis has made a number of identifications in the June 2013 auction (although not all the pieces have been discussed). Two things need to happen. First, senior officers at Christie's need to look closely at what appears to be a flawed due diligence process in their "ancient art" department. Second, somebody should be contacting the Italian authorities as a matter of urgency.

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Euboean amphora from the Borowski collection

One of the pieces to note in Christie's forthcoming sale in June is a Euboean black-figured amphora showing a seated woman and a sphinx (lot 540). The amphora first surfaced in an anonymous sale at Sotheby's (London) December 3, 1991, lot 383. It then entered the collection of Dr Elie Borowski and was sold for $10,575 at Christie's (Rockefeller Plaza) on June 12, 2000 (lot 27; "Ancient Greek Vases formerly in the private collection of Dr. Elie Borowski"). It was then sold twice by Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 2001 (Art of the Ancient World, vol. XII, no. 172) and 2010 (1000 Years of Ancient Greek Vases, no. 31).

Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted the amphora in the Medici Dossier. This suggests that Medici, or one of his agents, consigned the pot to Sotheby's in London. (See other pieces that passed through Sotheby's in London and since returned to Italy.) The amphora seems to have been photographed prior to surface cleaning.

Will one of the staff at Christie's be contacting the Italian authorities to clarify the full collecting history of this piece?

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Due diligence and collecting histories

Collecting histories are important. They indicate the routes through the antiquities market. And the collecting histories for objects that have been returned to Italy as a result of the Medici Conspiracy are fascinating. So if, say, a major auction house was asked to offer an object that shared the same collecting history (some continue to use the flawed term "provenance") as a returned object, I would presume that the staff of the antiquities department would conduct a rigorous due diligence process. Not only would they contact the Art Loss Register, but potential buyers would expect these purveyors of ancient art to contact (say) the Italian authorities to ensure that there is no overlap with the three major seized photographic archives. Can we be sure that such a rigorous process has taken place? What can buyers expect?

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Eakin: "Museums themselves are partly to blame"

Hugh Eakin has written an important, but I believe flawed, piece on the return of antiquities for the New York Times [NYT]. He has shown a nuanced approach in his comments on the writings of James Cuno, but shown sympathy towards the J. Paul Getty Museum over the coverage in Chasing Aphrodite.

There is one point where I agree with Eakin: "museums themselves are partly to blame". Since the 1970 UNESCO Convention (and the 1973 AIA Resolution), museums curators, museums directors, museum trustees, and museum boards have known the issues about acquiring recently surfaced antiquities. But the desire to acquire was too much. And this is why closer to 200 antiquities [not 100] have been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. This is why major institutions such as Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art have returned antiquities to Italy. These museums thought that they could acquire without restraint and the photographic evidence that emerged from the Geneva Freeport, from the Basel warehouses, and from Schinoussa has shown that their policies were flawed.

But let us return to Eakin's piece. He suggests that foreign governments have been threatening legal action over the return of antiquities. But I suspect that major museums have been secretly relieved to avoid that course of action. I do not know if Eakin has seen the photographic and documentary archives, but the thought of this material being unpacked in a courtroom where every image would be analysed in the media is one that would probably make the blood of most museum directors run cold. It is sufficient to say that Italy has probably claimed less than 1% of the objects in the photographic archives. This suggests great restraint, understanding and flexibility from the Italian authorities. But it also calls for flexibility from the North American museum community.

Eakin draws attention to the Dallas Museum of Art. The initiative to return this material to Italy (as well as a mosaic to Turkey) comes from the museum's director, Maxwell Anderson. As far as we can tell, it was Anderson who identified the material in the wake of the Almagià-linked returns from Princeton University Art Museum. Anderson does not appear to have waited for the Italians to start knocking on his door. He has a long record of acting in an ethical way over antiquities, notably over the EUMILOP scheme at Emory. Yet Eakin brackets Dallas with Toledo (one of the first museums to be identified in the Medici conspiracy) and the J. Paul Getty Museum. These cases are very different and Eakin should have made that clear.

Eakin makes the point that for most of the returned objects we do not know where they were found. The intellectual consequences of such lost knowledge are one of the reasons why this is such a tragic situation. Yes, we know that some pieces were looted from Morgantina on Sicily, or Etruscan cemeteries and sanctuaries at Cerveteri. But all have lost their scientific contexts. Eakin later mentions that the Italians did have access to photographic images that showed unrestored archaeological objects still covered in mud. Eakin could have noted that this is mud from tombs and other contexts not investigated by scientific archaeological means.

Eakin talks about the international trade in looted antiquities. It would have been worth pausing for a moment on how objects identified from the Medici and Schinoussa archives have been continuing to appear in New York auction-houses, and how these sales have continued to proceed even when the Italian authorities have contacted the relevant authorities. Have such stories been covered in the New York Times?

Eakin dramatises the situation:
Countries like Italy and Greece have used the news media to embarrass museums with alarming stories of rogue curators and nefarious dealers; they have withheld exhibition loans from museums that rebuff them; and they have resorted to aggressive legal action, opening criminal investigations of museum staff and enlisting the help of American federal prosecutors to obtain museum records and seize disputed works.
One wonders why it has been necessary for such actions to be taken against North American museums if everything is so transparent in the museum world. But let me take one item here: the "alarming stories of rogue curators". We could be distracted by the case of curators at the Getty or at Princeton. But what about the January 2012 news, never (as far as I can see) covered by the North American press, about the return of antiquities from the collection formed by a New York museum curator? What was so suspicious about this material that it was handed over? Why has the New York museum failed to make a statement? [Perhaps somebody at the AAMD meeting this week can ask the MMA's director that very question.]

There is no need to discuss "nefarious dealers". Eakin has read The Medici Conspiracy and Chasing Aphrodite. He could have listed the North American dealers who have supplied the museums but he chooses not to do so.

Have attitudes changed in the North American museum community? Eakin draws attention to the disputed St Louis Art Museum mummy case. He does not mention the flawed collecting history which was used as the basis for retaining the object and challenging the legal case. Yet the Cleveland Museum of Art has a acquired a Roman portrait of Drusus from the same dealer. What does this say about the due diligence process?

So will we see the return of the Bubon Roman bronzes to Turkey? Will the Michael C. Carlos Museum  start to negotiate with Greece over the Minoan larnax and other items? What is the collecting history of the bronze krater (once? still?) on loan to Houston?

I hope that the AAMD will strengthen its current policy on the acquisitions of antiquities to close various loopholes. And I suspect that there will be museums directors in Kansas this week who will be feeling more than uncomfortable about acquisitions under their care. Perhaps we will see a more enlightened position emerging from AAMD members this week.

And museum directors who wish to ignore the issue should re-read Eakin: "Museums themselves are partly to blame".

UPDATE: two links have been removed from this post.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Amber for Getty

It appears that the Getty is facing further searching questions about the acquisition of amber objects derived from sites in Etruria and Northern Italy (Jason Felch, "Getty Museum review targets its antiquities collection", LA Times January 18, 2013). It seems that they were part of a scheme whereby antiquities were over-valued to obtain higher tax relief for donors. It is alleged that the amber pieces passed through a network that included Giacomo Medici, Fritz Bürki, Robert Hecht, and Bruce McNall. The ambers came through Gordon McLendon.

Felch lays out the issues in his usual clear way.

Online Getty catalogue of amber.

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Toxic antiquities: Sotheby's and 1985

I have had reason to comment before on the significance of pieces that surfaced through Sotheby's in London in 1985. One of the issues was the number of items consigned to the sale by Christian Boursaud.

What other pieces came from the same source? Which North American museums acquired such toxic antiquities? Which private collectors had purchased them?

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Robin Symes and Dallas

Etruscan antefix
Source: DMA
The name of Robin Symes has been linked to the return of several objects from public and  private collections, as well as disrupted sales of antiquities. Among the objects linked to Symes were two terracotta antefixes that appeared on the New York market last year.

One of the objects that has been returned to Italy by the Dallas Museum of Art was an Etruscan antefix acquired from Symes. It was supplied with the collecting history of Henri Jacques in Geneva. The antefix also appears in the polaroid archive of Giacomo Medici.

This antefix is a reminder to any buying material on the market, not least because ex-Symes material continues to appear both openly, but also, more worryingly for buyers, without that part of the collecting history revealed. How many purchasers of antiquities in sales in the last few weeks could face returning objects when the full collecting histories are revealed?

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Toxic Medici Material on the Market

Towards the end of last month I noted that it was clear that ex-Medici material was surfacing on the market in forthcoming sale(s). I was deliberately vague in spite of the plea from one collector to release the detail.

Christos Tsirogiannis and I were able to discuss the sale(s) when we met at the end of last week. We talked about the material that had been identified and the outcome of the sale(s). Had some been left unsold? Had buyers bought material because it had not shown up in the due diligence searches? And were some lots left unbought in case they too were potentially toxic?

New sales are on the horizon and there could be more surprises in store. Those organising the December sales of antiquities would be wise to conduct rigorous due diligence searches.

But what happens if those auction-houses or dealers had been warned in advance about ex-Medici material? Would they have treated them as "stolen" and withdrawn them from the sale(s)?

Can we look forward to December?

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Questioning the wisdom of acquiring painted pottery"

One of the things that I was asked to do on Friday in the "Not praising, burying" workshop day at the Fitzwilliam Museum was to reflect on the impact of Artful Crafts. Our last chapter, "The Way Forward", reflected on the market. I read the following paragraph to the group as part of the discussion later in the day (p. 193):
We are reliably informed (by a former ancient art consultant) that one consequence of our thesis is that some North American collectors are now questioning the wisdom of acquiring painted pottery, since the field is so controversial (and nothing puts off collectors as much as controversy: they want their investments to be secure and not subject to the vagaries of scholarship). ... Any opposition to the view that Greek pottery did not possess an exalted position in antiquity should now be judged against the background of a market whose supporters are afraid of losing possible financial and material benefits.
It needs to be remembered that these words were published before the raid on the Geneva Freeport, and prior to the publication of Peter Watson's Sotheby's Inside Story. It anticipates the fallout from the Medici Conspiracy that has damaged the reputation of so many major North American museums (and some European and south-east Asian ones along the way).

It would be inappropriate to identify the ancient art consultant (as it appeared on the person's business card). But if that consultant had advised her / his clients that it would be wise not to invest in recently surfaced Greek figure-decorated pottery some of the problems could be avoided. Indeed some of those clients could be questioning the advice that they had been given.

I am hoping that some of these issues will be raised in the wider discussion on Thursday next week in the McDonald Institute, Cambridge. Readers of LM (and others!) who live within easy reach of Cambridge are more than welcome to attend.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Berlin painter krater fragments in Malibu

I have noted the return to Italy of a fragmentary red-figured krater attributed to the Berlin painter. The fragments were donated sequentially.

The earliest fragments were donated in 1977 by Herbert Lucas (inv. 77.AE.5), followed by a gift of Vasek Polak in 1982 (inv. 82.AE.124.1-42). Dietrich von Bothmer gave eight further fragments in 1984 (inv. 84.AE.972.1-8) [JSTOR] [no. 22], and two other pieces were sold from Galerie Nefer ("European art market") in 1984 (inv. 84.AE.68) [no. 21].

One of the other sellers of a fragment was Frederick H. Schultz, Jr. who was associated with Jonathan Tokely-Parry. He sold his fragment in 1987 (inv. 87.AE.51), though the J. Paul Getty Museum recorded it as a donation by Bothmer [JSTOR].

Fifteen further fragments were added in 1990 from the "London art market" (inv. 90.AE.2.1-15) [JSTOR]. A further set of loans was made in 1989 (L.89.AE.43.1-3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13-15, 20, 23, 24, 28, 30, 39).

Peter Watson has commented on these fragments in The Medici Conspiracy: "In the case of the Berlin Painter krater,  the bulk [of the fragments] came from Symes, quite a few came from Dietrich von Bothmer, a few came from Nefer Gallery, and one from Fred Schultz" (p. 227). Watson also implies that the the loan of fragments was made by Giacomo Medici who had offered to sell them for $125,000 (p. 225).

Where did Bothmer acquire the fragments that he presented?

Moore, M. B. 2000. "The Berlin painter and Troy." In Greek vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum, vol. 6: 159-86. Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Toledo: first stage over?

Etruscan hydria
The news that the Etruscan hydria would be returned from the Toledo Museum of Art hardly comes as a surprise. In March 2006, Vanity Fair ("The Getty's Blue Period") noted:
True was indicted last April by Paolo Ferri, a tenacious Italian prosecutor who had been working on the case for many years. The primary evidence was Polaroid photos of thousands of allegedly looted antiquities, some still covered in dirt, which had been discovered in a Swiss warehouse belonging to Giacomo Medici, a Maserati-driving Italian dealer. While True is the only major museum curator to have been indicted by Ferri, the Getty is not the only U.S. museum to own objects that appear in the photographs. So do New York's Metropolitan Museum, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum, according to Italian court records.
As well the J. Paul Getty Museum, each of the museums noted in the article have returned objects to Italy. Boston led the way in a prompt and dignified manner, although museums such as Minneapolis and Toledo have rather let the affair drag out.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Christie's and the unsold Canosan kraters

It appears that the pair of Canosan kraters offered by Christie's and identified by Christos Tsirogiannis in the Medici Dossier were left unsold. I understand that they failed to reach their reserve price.

What is interesting is that Christie's seemed to press ahead with the sale even though it appears that they were contacted by the Italian authorities.

Did Christie's undertake its own independent research? How rigorous is its due diligence process?

In April this year Christie's returned material to Italy that had been identified from similar photographic evidence.

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