Thursday, April 26, 2012

Antiquities returned to Italy from New York auction-house

Detail from Apulian situla.
In October 2009 I noted that antiquities had been seized from a New York auction house. Two of the items were an Apulian situla and an Attic pelike. The US ICE has now issued a press statement about the return of the antiquities including a marble head ("ICE returns stolen and looted art and antiquities to Italy", April 26, 2012). All three items had passed through Christie's Rockefeller Plaza in June and December 2009 and, according to the statement, had been derived from Gianfranco Becchina ("Two of the four investigations have been linked to Gianfranco Becchina, an Italian national allegedly associated with Italian organized crime and a competitor of the Giacomo Medici smuggling organization").

Christie's made an elusive press statement at the time. It is also worth quoting my comment from the time:
If the seized Apulian situla and the Attic pelike are indeed the ones appearing at Christie's in June 2009 then it makes the quote from G. Max Bernheimer, International Department Head of Antiquities, all the more significant: “Today’s [sc. June 3, 2009] strong results show that wonderful objects with clear provenance continue to perform exceedingly well at auction.”
It would now appear that the "clear provenance" was in fact the stock of Becchina.

The seizure has already been noted by me in the Journal of Art Crime (Spring 2010) 83 and in more detail in an article, "Polaroids from the Medici Dossier: Continued Sightings on the Market", co-authored with Christos Tsirogiannis in the Journal of Art Crime (Spring 2011) [abstract].

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