Skip to main content

Operation Phoenix: Ali Aboutaam "urges" others to repatriate antiquities

On May 19 it was reported that an unnamed Geneva dealer had returned 251 antiquities worth some €2 million (see earlier comments). My press release, "Looting Matters: Why Is Switzerland Featured so Frequently in the Return of Antiquities?", PR Newswire May 29, 2009 Friday 12:01 PM GMT subsequently noted:
"In May 2009 251 antiquities worth around 2 million Euros (US $2.8 million) were returned to Italy from a Geneva-based gallery."
One hour later another release appeared, "Phoenix Ancient Art Voluntarily Repatriates 251 Antiquities to Italy Worth $2.7 Million", PR Newswire May 29, 2009 Friday 1:00 PM GMT.
Phoenix Ancient Art, the world's leading dealer in rare treasures from ancient Western civilizations, announced today that it has voluntarily repatriated 251 antiquities valued at $2.7 Million (EU 2Million) to the State of Italy.
Why did it take ten days for Phoenix Ancient Art to make this statement? What prompted this latest move?

Ali Aboutaam was quoted in the release:
"We returned these ancient artifacts in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration with the international art world, and to demonstrate Phoenix's commitment to the preservation and repatriation of national treasures to their host countries ... We have, amicably settled the matter with the Italian authorities, and urge others in the art world to follow suit and also the lead of some of the world's great museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in repatriating antiquities whose provenance may be in doubt."
The press release suggests that the pieces were removed from archaeological contexts in Etruria and Southern Italy during the 1980s. It stress such looting was "unbeknownst to Phoenix"; in other words the pieces had been acquired in "good faith".

C. Michael Hedqvist, who is director of the Geneva gallery of Phoenix Ancient Art, is also quoted:
"To ensure the provenance of our items, we spend much of our time verifying an art work's pedigree. In our due diligence process we ask each seller of artwork for proof of identity, as well as for documents pertaining to how long the piece has been in circulation... The returned items were acquired by Phoenix a long time ago, without knowing of their doubtful provenance. Even though a court in Geneva in 2007 rejected the Italian claim and awarded title of the antiquities to Phoenix, proving that we were not at fault, we chose to return the disputed items to the Italian State."
Ali and Hicham Aboutaam have yet to explain their link with an antiquity returned from Princeton to Italy.

Aboutaam's urge that other institutions should "follow suit" and repatriate "antiquities whose provenance may be in doubt" will cause discomfort for two particular institutions:
Will these two museums be returning these two acquisitions in the near future?

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.

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

A fragmentary relief of Mithras was discovered in 1964 at Tor Cervara on the outskirts of Rome. It was acquired by the Museo Nazionale Romano.

A further fragment of the relief was acquired by the Badisches Landesmueum in Kalrsruhe in 1976. The source was an unstated Swiss dealer. This fragment has been reunited with the rest of the relief [press release].

Today a further fragment of the relief was reunited with the other pieces. This had been recovered during a raid in Sardinia.