Skip to main content

"Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market"

Lucian Harris has written about the gold vessel that appeared to have been looted from Iraq ("German court orders return of ancient vessel to Iraq", The Art Newspaper November 18, 2009) [see earlier comments]. Harris reports: "The decision of the Finanzgericht or financial court in Munich on 25 September was reached on the basis of a second expert opinion which concurred that the vessel was of Iraqi origin and it was ordered that it should be handed over to Iraqi authorities."

The report quotes Alaa Al-Hashimy from an October 2009 interview:
Unfortunately, we have information that make it clear that Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market and the authorities have not yet done enough to prevent it.
A 2007 interview with Dr Michael Müller-Karpe, a German museum curator, had described Germany as a laundry for antiquities.

Müller-Karpe now adds the telling comment:
In Germany you are punished if you buy a stolen car radio, but if you buy a stolen cylinder seal, or clay tablet, you are not.
The gold vessel is reported to have surfaced with Münzenhandlung Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger of Munich, Germany. This gallery is a member of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). As I have stated before, the IAPN "is one of three bodies involved in a legal suit against the US Department of State over the import of antiquities to the USA". It is also interesting that the IAPN, a "numismatic trade body", was represented at this month's review of the US MOU with Italy. One assumes that the IAPN is not in favour of import restrictions on archaeological material.

Has the time come for German authorities to take the issue of looted antiquities more seriously? Dr Müller-Karpe deserves praise for his brave stand over this part of Iraq's (and indeed our) cultural heritage.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


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.