Italian culture reporter Fabio Isman has an important story in the current issue of the Art Newspaper [no link available yet] about Gianfranco Becchina, the retired Sicilian antiquities dealer who now faces trial in Rome for conspiracy to traffic in looted art.
While reporting our book, Italian authorities told us that Becchina’s role in the illicit antiquities trade may have exceeded that of his now notorious rival, Giacomo Medici, who was convicted in 2004 in the biggest looting case in Italian history. Becchina, now 72 and retired from the trade in his native Sicily, is appealing a February 2011 conviction for illegal dealing and has denied pending conspiracy charges, Isman writes.
Becchina is perhaps best known as the dealer who sold the Getty its famous fake marble kouros. (See Chaps 4 and 5 of Chasing Aphrodite.) But that was just one sale in a 30-year career that Becchina meticulously archived in 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents. The archive was seized by Swiss authorities in 2001, along with 6,315 antiquities and 8,000 photographs of objects, many of which appeared recently excavated, Isman reveals. The dossier shared with Italian investigators, who needed two months just to digitally photograph it.
Today, the Becchina Dossier forms the center of Italy’s continuing investigation of the international trade in looted antiquities, which began in 1995 with the seizure of a similar cache of records and Polaroids belonging to Medici. Like the Medici files, the Becchina Dossier provides a striking record of the illicit trade, showing the path of thousands of looted objects from tombs across the Mediterranean to the display cases of leading museums around the world.
Becchina has previously admitted to providing objects to the Getty, the Boston MFA, the Met and museums at Yale, Princeton, Columbia and the University of Washington, as well as the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and museums in Japan. The archives reveal an even broader reach, Isman reports, including “the clandestine investigation of a million artifacts and police investigations into the affairs of 10,000 people.”
Among those tied to Becchina are the Toledo Museum of Art, the Miho Museum in Japan, the Lourve in Paris, the Merrin Gallery in New York, collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White and a large cast of middle men and looters familiar to those who have studied the illicit trade.
Italian investigators Daniella Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini have had the painstaking task of combing through the dossier since its seizure, matching objects described there to known collections. Their work continues today. Isman’s revealing story is the first of what will likely be several uncovering the contents of the Becchina Dossier.
We too have reviewed the Becchina Dossier and will write more about it in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that and stories about Becchina, who the authors visited in 2006 while reporting on the book.