Skip to main content

Following the Trail of Robin Symes

Lee Rosenbaum has drawn attention to a long review by Francesco Rutelli ("20 mesi di cultura in Italia"). In a section on "Cultural diplomacy" he states:
Un altro argomento centrale nelle recenti politiche del nostro Ministero è quello del recupero degli oggetti d’arte e soprattutto archeologici trafugati. Su questo delicatissimo fronte abbiamo intrapreso un’importante battaglia e la stiamo vincendo, come dimostra l’accordo per la restituzione dei 40 capolavori che erano conservati nel Getty Museum di Malibu. La forza etica degli argomenti e soprattutto l’impegno intransigente del Governo sono riusciti a ribaltare in poco tempo quel che non si muoveva da decenni: prevedo che nell’arco dei prossimi anni altre centinaia di opere rubate al nostro patrimonio nazionale e portate all’estero torneranno in Italia: l’accordo che ho stipulato con il Ministro della Cultura inglese per fare luce sulla collezione Symes ospitata a Londra ha aperto nuove, considerevoli opportunità.
By my reckoning around 100 antiquities have been returned to Italy (from Boston, Malibu, New York, Princeton; University of Virginia Art Museum at Charlottesville; Shelby White and Jerome Eisenberg). So the prospects of "hundreds" of other capolavori returning "home" is an interesting one.

What are they?

My hunch is that Rutelli will not be revisiting any of the above collections (with the possible exception of the J. Paul Getty Museum for the Fano athlete) unless there are new and spectacular revelations. He has negotiated and agreements have been reached.

He has already indicated that three museums are in his sights: the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek in Copenhagen, the Miho Museum, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. But will they yield a mere 20 or 30 pieces between them?

So why the expected "hundreds"?

The fact that the "Symes collection" is under discussion is significant. P. Watson and C. Todeschini in The Medici Conspiracy (ch. 17) have noted that the "holding company" for Symes' private collection was "Xoilan Trader" (with an administrative address in Geneva, Switzerland). (Note that the Attic red-figured krater sold to the Minneapolis Institute of Art by Symes was published as having been in "private collections" in Great Britain and Switzerland.)

The Medici Conspiracy also maps Symes' assets:
In his thirty-three warehouses ... Symes had 17,000 objects worth an estimated £125 million ($210 million).
Are these objects the subject of Rutelli's discussions with Margaret Hodge, the Minister in the UK's Department of Culture, Media and Sport?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.