Wednesday, 14 September 2022

The Steinhardt Fresco from Herculaneum

Source: Manhattan DA

Among the antiquities seized from the collection of Michael Steinhardt was a fragment of Roman fresco showing the infant Hercules killing a snake (Exhibit 87). The Manhattan DA Statement suggested that the fresco had been looted in 1995 from a villa destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius somewhere in the vicinity of Oliva dei Monaci. A letter sent to the Italian authorities, along with photographs of the finds, identified Pasquale Camera who had sold on the pieces to Raffaele Monticelli for $120,000. Monticelli then sold the fresco to to Robert Hecht for $240,000.

Steinhardt was reported to have been in correspondence with Jasper Gaunt on November 10, 1995 relating to the delivery of a "crate": Steinhardt received an invoice for the fresco from Harry Bürki on November 22, 1995 ($650,000). Bürki later (February 17, 1999) claimed that the fresco had been in his family's collection for some 25 years and that it had been acquired from a "Bulgarian medical doctor".

The interplay between Bürki and Hecht should be noted, as well as the creation of a false collecting history.

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