Skip to main content

ALR: the need to differentiate between looted and stolen


I have been reading the comments made by James Ratcliffe over the return of archaeological material recovered in Europe after being removed from archaeological storage facilities in the Lebanon (Laura Chesters, "Art Loss Register, New York’s district attorney and antiquities dealers team up to safeguard Lebanese sculptures", Antiques Trade Gazette 6 February 2018). The comments relate to material that was derived from the archaeological excavation at Eshmun (see also here). 

The two Roman sculptures are given a little history:
  • "One sculpture was recovered when an antiquities dealer in Freiburg, Germany, was acquiring it from an Austrian dealer."
  • "The second sculpture was identified when a dealer in London contacted the ALR before its potential acquisition. The sculpture was owned by a private collector and ALR contacted US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York. The New York County District Attorney’s Office then seized the piece to ensure its return to Lebanon."
So some questions. Who was the Austrian dealer? Had the Austrian dealer conducted a rigorous due diligence search? If not, why not? Where had the Austrian dealer acquired the sculpture? Will that source be disclosed? For the second piece, who was the New York collector? Is there any connection with the Eshmun pieces recently seized in North America? Why had the New York collector decided to ask a London-based dealer to dispose of the sculpture? Were any other Eshmun pieces being off-loaded by other routes?

Ratcliffe comments:
In principle there is nothing wrong with a trade in antiquities where items have lawfully entered the market, but trading in pieces that are looted is entirely wrong and must stop.
The Eshmun pieces were not "looted" from an unknown archaeological site, they were apparently removed from an archaeological store. In spite of the photographic evidence that was available an Austrian dealer and a New York collector were able to acquire these pieces. Were they acquired in "good faith"? Was there anything "unlawful"? How do newly surfaced antiquities "enter" the market?

Ratcliffe continues to misunderstand how the ALR is unlikely to detect recently looted material.
Through due diligence checks it is possible for those in the trade to identify when they are being offered looted material and for it then to be returned
How will a due diligence check identify looted material? Imagine an Etruscan tomb of the early fifth century BC. No photographs were taken of the objects as they were placed around the body. Now picture the scene of a tombarolo removing the objects from the tomb in, say, 2015. The objects are sold to an intermediary, passed to a dealer in, say, Germany, and then images are sent to the Art Loss Register as part of the due diligence process. The ALR will report back that there is no image in their records, and the dealer can state that the ALR has been consulted. Can looted objects be identified in the process?

I suspect that there needs to be some clarification. Ratcliffe needs to reflect on the ALR's role in the case of the St Louis Mummy Mask, an object recorded from an archaeological site and then apparently removed from an archaeological store.


Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

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.