Skip to main content

Christie's and the Art Loss Register

The Art Loss Register (ALR) states on its website that it "searches all auction catalogues and private sales for Christies to identify before sale any items which are registered as stolen, fake, missing, looted". The ALR continues: "This is the foundation of due diligence to ensure that the buyers obtain good title free of disputes."

This is a bold claim. Are all looted antiquities documented and photographed? Do looters submit their photographs to the ALR? So the statement assumes that looted antiquities have to be registered.

And what if objects in one of the auctions are identified from one of the photographic dossiers seized in Switzerland and Greece? Will Christie's only respond if the ALR makes the identification?

And does the work of the ALR guarantee that "buyers obtain good title free of disputes"? What if the Italian authorities make the identification themselves and approach the auction-house directly?

The wording is clearly intended to reassure potential buyers. But does it?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


While an item that happens to have a photograph in one of the "dossiers" (Medicci is one) certainly would give reason for caution, you are making a pretty bold assumption that all of the photographs found were of items which had been "recently" looted. (As opposed to looted prior to whatever cutoff date is valid for the country in question - but for the sake of argument let's say 1970)

All dealers maintain photofiles. Some items may have been offered to said dealers and a photograph taken to obtain opinions on specific pieces before they were purchased and/or sold. Or, photographs could have been taken before and after restoration work of pieces that are from "old" collections.

While I certainly agree that a photograph from the "Medicci dossier" should be of concern, it does not establish that a specific item is "looted" as fact. It is only one piece of evidence that must be taken into consideration.

While it would be irresponsible to dismiss the fact that a photograph exists in one of these dossiers it is also irresponsible to label all items in those photographs as positively looted.
Paul Barford said…
How about treating items in such a "dossier" as items known to be have been sold by a dealer who is known to have dealt in looted objects?

If that is the ONLY verifiable provenance that object now has, it is tainted.
I agree, thus, it is reason to be cautious. But a much bigger issue is that these photos have not been made available to the public in their entirety.
Paul Barford said…
Most dealers in dugup antiquities do not reveal to the public the details of where the individual objects they handle actually come from.

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 …

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.

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…