Tag Archives: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chasing Aphrodite at Google: Jason Felch on the Illicit Antiquities Trade and WikiLoot

Google's pet T-Rex, Stan, is on the prowl at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.

On February 10th, Jason visited the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA to talk about Chasing Aphrodite and to solicit help with a new initiative, WikiLoot.

The talk was part of the Authors@Google program, and was organized by Jason’s old friend Steve Meaney, who works in marketing there. (Thanks, Steve!) Also attending were several people from the archaeology department at nearby Stanford University.

The hour-long talk gives an overview of the role of the Getty Museum and other American museums in the illicit antiquities trade. At minute 49 the talk turns to WikiLoot, an effort to harness technology to expose the illicit trade. A Q&A follows.

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The Cleveland List: 21 objects Turkey wants Cleveland Museum of Art to Return

UPDATE: Steven Litt at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has published an update on the Cleveland case here, saying the case “could shake the foundations of encyclopedic museums.” The Cleveland Museum was first contacted by Turkey in 2008, and took two years to respond before refusing to allow testing on the contested objects or provide information about their provenance, Litt reports.

We noted with interest that several of the questioned objects were acquired under former Cleveland antiquities curator Arielle Kozloff, who worked closely with the Getty’s Marion True to exhibit the Fleischman Collection, went on to work for the Merrin Gallery, and now describes herself as “a private consultant and lecturer for museums and private collectors.” In this video, Kozloff expresses her admiration for former Cleveland director Sherman Lee, saying, “As soon as the glimpse of a question arose about [a contested painting], he went right after it to find the truth and made sure that the truth came out.” Times have changed at the Cleveland.

UPDATE II: David Gill notes that Kozloff has suggested previously that one of the museum’s contested bronzes came from Bubon, Turkey and was looted in the 1960s  — a claim she has now backed away from. And Paul Barford has some additional thoughts here.

On Saturday, Jason revealed in the Los Angeles Times that the government of Turkey is seeking the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from American museums, including 21 objects from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

We’ve posted a complete list of the Cleveland objects below. They range from 14th Century BC Hittite objects through the Greek and Roman period and up to Ottoman period tiles and ceramic work.

The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180)(CMA 1986.5)

The most prominent piece is likely this bronze Roman statue believed to represent Marcus Aurelius, which Cleveland acquired in 1986. On its website, the museum describes its origin as “Turkey, Bubon(?) (in Lycia.)” It is unclear how the bronze got from Bubon to Cleveland, and whether the object was granted an export permit, as required since the passage of Turkey’s 1906 cultural patrimony law. The Cleveland Museum of Art declined to answer questions about Turkey’s claim.

As David Gill has noted, a series of monumental bronze statues were taken from the sebasteion, or imperial cult room, of Bubon. A similar bronze depicting Lucius Verus is in the collection of Shelby White.

In the coming days, we’ll be posting details on the requested objects at the Getty and Dumbarton Oaks. We already posted the list of contested objects at the Met  here.

Scoop: Turkey asks Getty, Met, Cleveland and Dumbarton Oaks to Return Dozens of Antiquities

In Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, Jason reports on Turkey’s bid to repatriate dozens of allegedly looted antiquities in American museums.

The requests include 10 objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum; 18 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; 21 objects at the Cleveland Musuem of Art; and the Sion Treasure at Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks.

Below we’ve provided the complete article. In the coming days, we’ll be providing additional details on the objects sought at each of the museums.

Turkey asks U.S. museums for return of antiquities

The Getty and the New York Met are among the U.S. institutions the Turkish government has contacted over artifacts it believes were smuggled out of the country.

By Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times

8:48 PM PDT, March 30, 2012The government of Turkey is asking American museums to return dozens of artifacts that were allegedly looted from the country’s archaeological sites, opening a new front in the search for antiquities smuggled out of their original countries through an illicit trade.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection are among the institutions that the Turkish government has contacted, officials say.

Turkey believes the antiquities were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country after the passage of a 1906 law that gave the state ownership of antiquities in the ground.

Inspired by the success of its Mediterranean neighbors Italy and Greece, Turkey is taking a more aggressive stance toward its claims, many of which were first made decades ago.

“Turkey is not trying to start a fight,” said Murat Suslu, Turkey’s director general for cultural heritage and museums. “We are trying to develop … cooperation and we hope these museums will also understand our point of view.”

Turkey is presenting the museums with supporting evidence and has threatened to halt all loans of art to those institutions until they respond to the claims. Loans have already been denied to the Met, a Turkish official said.

American museums’ antiquities collections have been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years as evidence emerged of their ties to an illicit trade in artifacts found in archaeological sites around the world.

Confronted with that evidence, the Getty, the Met, the Cleveland, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Princeton University Art Museum returned more than 100 looted objects to Italy and Greece, changed their acquisition policies and formed collaboration agreements that allow for loans to replace acquisitions of suspect material.

But new evidence continues to emerge, underscoring that the scope of the problem is far wider. In January, Italy announced that it had recovered an additional 200 objects and fragments from the Met and Princeton after they were tied to an ongoing criminal investigation of Italian antiquities dealer Edoardo Almagia and Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett.

None of the museums facing requests from Turkey would release a list of the contested objects in their collections, but The Times obtained a partial list from Turkish officials of what the country is asking for. Judging from publicly available records, most of the objects were acquired by the museums since the 1960s and have little or no documented ownership history before that, suggesting they could have come from illicit excavations.

Statue of a Muse. From Cremna, Turkey, circa 200 AD. (JPGM 94.AA.22)

The 10 Getty objects sought by Turkey were acquired from dealers, auction houses or collectors for more than $1 million between 1968 and 1994 and include four marble muses now on display in the Getty Villa’s Basilica gallery. According to ownership histories provided by the Getty in accordance with its reformed antiquities policy, several originated with Elie Borowski or Nicolas Koutoulakis, two antiquities dealers known to have ties to the illicit trade.

The Getty’s talks with Turkey began in the 1990s, government officials said, and gained steam under the directorship of interim museum director David Bomford, who left the Getty in February.

“We expect those discussions to continue and while they do, we will not be getting into specifics,” said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.

The 18 contested objects at the Met are all from the private collection of Norbert Schimmel, a longtime Met trustee who died in 1990. The museum acquired the Schimmel collection in 1989, and several of the contested objects are now highlights of the museum’s Ancient Near East Galleries.

A Hittite gold pendant of a goddess with a child, circa 1400 BCE from Central Anatolia. (MMA 1989.281.12)

Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Met, initially denied the museum had received a request for specific objects. He later acknowledged in a statement that Turkey had requested information about the 18 objects in September, adding that the museum is “in the process of providing” that information. Turkish officials say the Met’s only response has been to write a letter to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At Dumbarton Oaks inWashington, D.C., ancient silver plates and other decorative objects known as the Sion Treasure are among the items Turkey is seeking to recover. The treasure was reportedly found in the early 1960s in an ancient burial mound in Kumluca, Turkey. It was acquired by the museum in 1966 from a private collector who bought them that same year from George Zakos, an antiquities dealer with documented ties to the illicit trade.

Paten with Cross, from the Sion Treasure. (BZ.1963.36.3)

Turkey has been asking for the return of the treasure since 1968, hoping to reunite the objects with the rest of the treasure, which is in a museum in Antalya, on Turkey’s southwest coast.

Twenty-one objects are being sought from the Cleveland Museum, which Turkish officials say has not responded to their inquiries. A museum spokeswoman declined to comment or release a list of contested objects.

Turkey has long sought the return of objects taken illegally from its borders, with occasional success.

Most famously, the country’s government fought a six-year legal battle with the Met for the return of the Lydian Hoard, a collection of goods looted from a burial mound in western Turkey. (It, too, had passed through the hands of Zakos.) The Met agreed to return the objects in 1993 after evidence emerged that museum officials had been aware of the material’s illicit origins and sought to hide it. To the chagrin of Turkish authorities, soon after its return a key piece of the treasure was stolen from the local museum to which it was returned.

CMA 1942.204

A similar battle played out between Turkey and the Boston MFA over the Roman statue Weary Herakles. Turkey requested the statue’s return in the 1990s after finding its bottom half in an excavation in Perge. The MFA had purchased the top half in 1981 jointly with New York collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White. The MFA’s piece has been known to fit the bottom half in Turkey since 1992, but the museum only returned it last September as part of a broader cultural cooperation agreement.

In hopes of avoiding such protracted disputes, Turkey adopted a more aggressive stance in 2010, barring loans to institutions harboring contested objects. The Art Newspaper reported earlier this month that two British museums have recently been denied loans.

“It’s part of a broader shift in the government saying, ‘culture matters to us,'” said Christina Luke, a lecturer in archaeology at Boston University. While working in Turkey over the last decade, Luke has seen Turkey make major investments in regional cultural sites, efforts to educate children about the value of their heritage and attempts to clarify and strengthen the country’s cultural policies.

“Turkey is offended because of having insincere responses to her claims,” said Turkish official Suslu. “Turkey has been fighting against illicit trafficking of cultural objects since the Late Ottoman Period. Many ways were tried during the past years but they were not sufficient.”

jason.felch@latimes.com

EXCLUSIVE: Turkey Seeks The Return of 18 Objects From The Metropolitan Museum of Art

[See below for updates.]

The Turkish government is seeking the return of 18 objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The requested objects include several highlights of the Met’s collection that are currently on display in the museum’s Ancient Near East Galleries. Turkey claims all of them were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country after the passage of a 1906 law that gave the state ownership of its cultural property.

All the contested objects are from the Norbert Schimmel Collection, which the museum has described as “the finest private assemblage of its kind in America” and “one of the most important gifts of ancient and Classical art ever presented to this museum.” Between the 1950s and his death in 1990, Schimmel was a member of the Met’s board of trustees and acquisitions committee. In 1989, he donated 102 objects from his collection to the Met. The museum’s 1992 catalog of the collection quotes Schimmel saying, “Collectors are born, note made, possessed of an enthusiasm that borders on madness.”

We’ve posted a list of 16 of the 18 objects Turkey is requesting here. Here are a few highlights:

A Hittite gold pendant of a goddess with a child, circa 1400 BCE from Central Anatolia.  (MMA 1989.281.12)

A silver Hittite rhyton, or drinking cup, in the form of a stag, circa 1400 BCE from Central Anatolia. (MMA 1989.281.10)

Vases of electrum, gilt silver and silver “said to be found together” in Northwest Anatolia by 1974. Made circa 2300 BCE.
(MMA 1989.281.45a,b-.48)

Urartian belt ornament in the form of a bird demon, circa 8th century BCE. (MMA 1989.281.19)

The requests from Turkey were first reported by Martin Bailey in the Art Newspaper earlier this month. The report said Turkey was requesting the return of two objects from British museums — the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum — and 11 unidentified objects at the Met. Turkey has refused to loan objects to those institutions until questions about the contested objects were addressed.

But the scope of Turkey’s demands reach far beyond those three museums, we have learned. Turkey has requested the return of objects from several other American museums. We’ll be posting details on those objects soon.

The Met has refused to publicly identify the objects Turkey has requested, and in response to our inquiries has changed its story about the requests several times. On March 2, Harold Holzer, the museum’s senior vice president for external affairs told us,  “We have had a request for no specific objects at all.” Soon after, he corrected that statement and said Turkey had requested information about 11 objects at the museum, as reported by the Art Newspaper. A few days later, Holzer acknowledged the actual number was 18 objects, and offered the following statement:

This past fall, The Metropolitan Museum of Art was contacted by officials from the Turkish Ministry of Culture with regard to 18 works of art in our collection. The Ministry requested provenance information, which we are in the process of providing. Because this matter is currently under discussion with the Turkish government, the Museum will have no further comment at this time—except to acknowledge with appreciation that Turkey has long been a valued lender to significant exhibitions at the Metropolitan, and we look forward to the continuation of that relationship.

The museum did not explain why it has taken several months to provide Turkey with provenance information that is readily available on the museum’s website. Most of the objects have no documented ownership history other than being in the Schimmel Collection by the mid 1960s or 1970s.

Ancient Art: The Norbert Schimmel Collection (1974)

The Schimmel Collection was published in a 1974 volume entitled “Ancient Art:The Norbert Schimmel Collection.” The editor of the volume was Oscar White Muscarella, a former Met curator who has been an outspoken critic of the role museums have played in the illicit antiquities trade. We’ve asked Muscarella for his thoughts on the Turkish claim and will post his response when we have it.

In a 1990 obituary for Schimmel in the New York Times, another outspoken reformer — Maxwell Anderson, current director of the Dallas Museum of Art — was quoted saying, “As a collector he was an inspiration to the antiquities field, in the sense that he quietly and devotedly promoted the appreciation of ancient art through sage collecting and through the generosity he manifested to several collections throughout the country.”

HOT DOC: TURKEY REQUESTS FROM THE MET

UPDATES:

In early June, Met director Thomas Campbell made some public comments about claims like those coming from Cambodia and Turkey: “We welcome any additional information about the provenance of these or any other contested objects and I think it’s inevitable that as a result of the mandate I gave our staff a year and a half ago to get all our collections online, we are going to see a number of cases like this coming forward. In the spirit of our new collecting guidelines which we adopted just as I took over from Philippe [de Montebello] in late 2008, we are fully committed to dealing with such claims with transparency.” Perhaps Harold Holzer didn’t get the memo?

Lee Rosenbaum has picked up the story on her blog CultureGrrl, noting that Schimmel himself had regrets about his collecting practices. Citing her 1979 interview with Schimmel, Lee writes: “Norbert Schimmel says that he now generally does not buy objects that were once attached to buildings. Gesturing towards paintings displayed in his Manhattan apartment that had been hacked out of an Egyptian tomb, he said he was now ‘ashamed I bought these.’ He added that he does not like to buy objects that left their countries of origin after the effective dates of laws banning their export, ‘but when I see a nice object, I believe it left before. Sometimes I ask. In Europe, everybody buys and they don’t ask any questions.’ Schimmel noted that even if you ask questions, you are unlikely to get illuminating answers. ‘Dealers never tell you exactly where something was found. They say, ‘Anatolia,’ and then they tell you all their stories.'”

Derek Finchham has posted some interesting analysis of the legal challenges facing the Turkish request on his blog Illicit Cultural Property. “In order to pursue a legal claim here Turkey would have to justify its reasons for not bringing a claim in 1974,” Fincham writes. “What Turkey does have though is a potential ethical claim which the Met may respond to. And if the Met does not, Turkey is imposing a damaging cultural embargo, and pressure will likely mount on the Met to justify their continued possession of these objects.”

David Gill at Looting Matters reminds us of that several objects linked to Schimmel that have already been returned to source countries: an eye of Amenhotep III; an Apulian dinos that the Met has returned to Italy; and the Met’s Morgantina silvers, which now reside in a museum in Aidone, Sicily alongside the Getty’s statue of a Cult Goddess (once thought to represent Aphrodite.)

Almagia Objects Traced to Boston MFA, San Antonio Museum, Indiana University.

We’ve heard back from more museums about objects they acquired from Edoardo Almagia, the Italian dealer at the center of an investigation into the illicit antiquities trade.

As we’ve reported previously, the Met and Princeton University museums have recently returned more than 200 Almagia objects and fragments to Italy, some of which may be used as evidence in the criminal trial of Almagia and Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett. Italian investigators have also traced the dealer’s objects to the Dallas Museum of Art, and we found one at the Getty.

We can now provide details about Almagia objects at three more American museums.

BOSTON MUSEUM OF FINE ART

The Boston Museum of Fine Art has ten objects tied to Almagia, nine of which were impasto vases acquired in 1995 as donations from Jonathan Kagan, a prominent investment manager. Prior to Almagia, the objects were “said to have been purchased in Basel.” An old Swiss collection there, no doubt. A decade before donating the Almagia objects to the Met, Kagan was reportedly behind the sale of the Elmali Treasure, a vast hoard of ancient coins allegedly looted from Turkey.

Boston 1991.534

The tenth Almagia object at the Boston MFA is a lovely Roman bust of an old man made of Carraran marble from northwest Italy. The museum purchased the bust directly from Almagia in 1991. It has no documented ownership history.

Details of all the Almagia objects in Boston can be found in the MFA’s release here.

In a statement, museum spokeswoman Amelia Kantrovitz said, “Since 2000, the provenance of these objects–like virtually all objects in the Museum’s collection–has been available at mfa.org. There have been no recent discussions with Italy or Mr. Almagià about these works. The MFA’s relationship with Italy over the last 5 years has led to important loans, several of which are on view in the current exhibition ‘Aphrodite and the Gods of Love.'”

None of the 13 objects returned by Boston in 2006 came from Almagia, Kantrovitz added, though the bust shown above was among the objects discussed during negotiations.

SAN ANTONIO MUSEUM OF ART

The San Antonio Museum of Art purchased two Greek vases from Almagia in the 1980s. The first (above) is a red-figure Oinoche depicting Dionysos and a satyr attributed to the Florence Painter.

The second vase (right) is a red-figure Attic plate depicting the head of a man. As for its provenance, the museum could only say it is “said to be from Barbarano Romano,” an Etruscan necropolis in Viterbo, Italy. (You can view a panoramic image of the tombs here.)

The museum also has 54 vase fragments — also said to be from Barbarano Romano — that were purchased from Almagia in 1986 by a local attorney, Gilbert Denman Jr., who donated them to SAMA the same year.

Carlos Picon, curator of antiquities at the Met

None of the antiquities have a documented ownership history. All were acquired under then-curator Carlos Picon, the current antiquities curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As David Gill has noted, Picon also knew Giacomo Medici and has described being touched by the generosity of the convicted antiquities trafficker. It will be interesting to know more about the relationship between Picon and Almagia as the Italian investigation unfolds.

SAMA director Katie Luber said in a statement that the museum reached out to Italian authorities about the Almagia objects on February 17th, two weeks after first being contacted by us. It has not yet heard back.

INDIANA UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUM

The museum Indiana University acquired two objects from Almagia in 1986. Mark Land, a museum spokesman, said in an email, “IU Art Museum has not been contacted by Italian authorities regarding Mr. Almagia nor has the museum been asked to return any objects associated with Mr. Almagia. The museum has had no discussions with Mr. Almagia about the objects in question.”

Land did not have details about the objects’ ownership histories but he did provide images:

A South Italian stemless kylix, 3rd century BC (UI 86-48-2)

An Apulian trozella (urn), ca. 5th-4th century BC (UI 86-48-1)

PRINCETON UPDATE: STILL STONEWALLING

Meanwhile, Princeton University is refusing to respond to questions about its own ties to Almagia, perhaps because the museum’s antiquities curator Michael Padgett remains the subject of a criminal investigation for his ties to the dealer. Since the University released a vague statement on January 25th, we have sent several follow-up requests for additional information. University spokesman Martin Mbugua has failed to respond to any of them — odd behavior for an educational institution.

Below are the questions I send to Martin on January 27th. Perhaps some of our readers will have better luck than I getting answers. Should you care to try, his email is mmbugua@Princeton.edu

Thank you for the link, Martin.

Unfortunately the release was not very helpful. It did not state the reason for the returns and did not answer my questions about the objects. I shall try again:

Can you please provide images and the ownership history for each of the returned objects?

Also, please provide a copy of the internal investigation that apparently led to the decision.

Can you clarify the release’s statement that Princeton had good title to the objects it returned? If Princeton had title, that would indicate the objects had not been illegally exported from their country of origin. If that is the case, why would the university return them?

Finally, are there additional objects in Princeton’s collection that were donated or purchased from Almagia that have not been returned? If so, please provide a list of them with information about their ownership histories.

You referred me to investigators for an update on the Padgett investigation. I have contacted them. Given that Padgett is an employee of the university, I have a few questions that only the university can answer:

— is the University paying for Dr. Padgett’s defense?

— The Met indicated it returned objects so they could be used as evidence in a possible criminal trial. Were the Princeton returns sent back for the same purpose?

— Has the University investigated the allegations against Dr. Padgett? If so, what conclusion was reached?

I understand that on-going investigations are sensitive matters. My experience is that transparency in these matters is the best way to demonstrate good faith to the public.

Robert E. Hecht Jr., leading antiquities dealer over five decades, dead at 92.

photo by Ed Alcock/NYT

Robert E. Hecht Jr. 1919 - 2012

Bob Hecht died quietly at home in Paris at about noon on Wednesday, according to his wife Elizabeth. He was 92 years old. Here’s my obituary in the LA Times.

When Robert E. Hecht Jr. arrived at the loading platform of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the fall of 1972, he was carrying a large wooden box and was escorted by an armed guard.

Inside the box was perhaps the finest Greek vase to survive antiquity, a masterpiece that would soon be making headlines around the world.

The Met had agreed to pay a record $1 million for the ancient work. Hecht said it had been in the private collection of a certain Lebanese gentleman.

But when Met director Thomas Hoving heard the story, he scoffed: “I bet he doesn’t exist.”

Indeed, as Hecht later revealed in his unpublished memoir, he had just bought the vase from “loyal suppliers” who had dug it up from ancient tombs outside Rome and smuggled it out of Italy.

Robert Hecht poses in front of the famous looted Greek vase he sold the museum in 1972 for $1 million.

The ensuing controversy over the so-called Euphronios krater marked a turning point in the art world, opening the public’s eyes to the shady side of museums. It also solidified Hecht’s reputation as the preeminent dealer of classical antiquities, driving him underground — but not out of business.

He became a legendary but mysterious figure, one whose passion for ancient art overcame any questions about the destruction wrought by its illicit origins.

That career ended Wednesday, when Hecht died at his home in Paris at age 92.

His death comes less than three weeks after the ambiguous end of his criminal trial in Rome on charges of trafficking in looted antiquities. Since the 1990s, Hecht had been at the center of an Italian investigation that traced objects looted from tombs in Italy through a network of smugglers, dealers and private collectors to museums across the United States, Europe and beyond.

This chart showing the key players in the illicit antiquities trade was seized by Italian police in the 1990s.

Hecht was accused of being a key player in that illicit trade, along with his alleged co-conspirators, former J. Paul Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion True and Italian dealer Giacomo Medici. Medici, who supplied Hecht with the Met’s famous vase after buying it from looters, was convicted in 2004. The trial of Hecht and True began in 2005, but the statute of limitations expired before the court could reach a verdict for either.

In a phone interview after his trial ended, Hecht sounded frail but characteristically coy about the source of his remarkable inventory of ancient vases, statues and frescoes, which now reside in museums around the globe.

“I have no idea of where an object was excavated,” he said. “It could have been excavated 100 years ago; it could have been excavated an hour ago.”

Hecht was born in Baltimore in 1919, heir to the Washington, D.C.-area department store chain that bore his family name. He served in the Navy Reserve in World War II, then accepted a scholarship to study classics and archaeology at the American Academy in Rome.

It was there that he began buying ancient art. At the time, ancient artifacts were sold openly to tourists in the city’s piazzas. But Hecht soon learned that his passion carried risks.

In 1962, he was barred from reentering Turkey after being accused of trying to smuggle out ancient coins. Not long after, he was accused in Italy of trafficking in looted antiquities. Italy’s highest court eventually exonerated him for lack of evidence.

That case was still working through Italy’s legal system when Hecht was offered the Euphronios krater by Medici, who had grown up near the Etruscan necropolis where the vase was illegally excavated.

The deal cemented Hecht’s relationship with Medici, whom he describes in his memoir as “a faithful purveyor” who “rose early each morning [and] toured the villages … visiting all the clandestine diggers.”

The ensuing scandal forced Hecht to relocate to Paris and do business through a series of front men, one of whom was a precocious ancient coin dealer named Bruce McNall.

“He was like a father,” said McNall, who first met Hecht in 1970 while buying ancient coins at an auction in Basel. “He was one of the most fascinating characters I’ve met in my life — a man of mystery, a genius, a family man.”

Soon after meeting, McNall and Hecht became partners, and according to McNall began selling recently looted antiquities to museums and collectors out of McNall’s Rodeo Drive storefront gallery. They also created an elaborate tax fraud scheme with former Getty antiquities curator Jiri Frel, arranging for Hollywood figures to donate looted antiquities to the Getty in exchange for inflated tax write-offs.

“I found him to be without question the most knowledgeable person I’d met in the business, much more of an academic than a dealer,” said McNall, who went on to produce Hollywood films and buy the Los Angeles Kings hockey team before going to jail on unrelated bank fraud charges.

Among Hecht’s top clients was the J. Paul Getty Museum, which was aggressively building its collection of ancient art in the 1980s and ’90s. In a deposition, True said Hecht could be “charming, very, very intelligent, but he could also turn, be very hostile, very sarcastic, very sinister.”

It was Hecht’s ties to the Getty that landed him on trial with True in Rome. In addition to Hecht’s memoir, which was seized in 2001, investigators found correspondence in which the two appeared to openly discuss the illicit origin of objects the Getty was buying.

Confronted with the evidence, the Getty and other leading American museums agreed to return more than 100 antiquities to Italy, including dozens that came through Hecht. Among them was the Met’s Euphronios krater, which was returned to Italy in 2008.

Ultimately, Italian prosecutors could not win a criminal conviction in the case before the allotted time elapsed.

“He was not able to be proven guilty, so he was innocent,” Hecht’s wife, Elizabeth, said Wednesday.

In addition to his wife, Hecht is survived by his daughters Daphne Hecht Howat of Paris, Andrea Hecht of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Donatella Hecht of Westchester, N.Y.

Please feel free to share your memories of him in the comments below.

American art dealer Robert Hecht, 86, center, is approached by reporters as he leaves a Rome court for a break Friday Jan. 13, 2006

Marion True and the Getty Museum’s Almagia Vase

In 1986, former J. Paul Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion True recommended the purchase of an attic cup from Edoardo Almagia, the antiquities dealer now under investigation by Italian authorities for allegedly trafficking in looted antiquities.

True was offered the red-figured cup attributed to the Marlay Painter in New York City, where Almagia was based, according to Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig. It was in fragments at the time. The board of trustees approved the purchase for $7,500, and the restored cup is now on display today at the Getty Villa.

JPG 86.AE.479

The attic cup is not listed in the Getty’s online collection, but was published in the 1987 edition of the museum’s acquisition journal, shown at right. The journal lists the cup’s provenance as “New York art market.” Hartwig added that it “was said to have been bought in Switzerland, of Southern Italian origin.”

The cup is the only acquisition from Almagia in the Getty’s collection, Hartwig said.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Princeton University Museum of Art have recently returned hundreds of objects and fragments purchased from Almagia, whose criminal investigation is on-going. Hartwig said Italian officials have not asked about the Getty’s cup.

Transparency check: Dallas, Tampa, the Met and now the Getty have all been forthcoming about their acquisitions from Almagia. We have not received a response to our Feb 3 inquiries to the San Antonio Museum of Art or the Indiana University Museum, where Almagia objects have also been traced. Princeton University has likewise not responded to our request for additional information about their recent return of dozens of objects to Italy. The Boston Museum of Fine Art says it is now compiling information about Almagia acquisitions for us.

Loot at the Dallas Museum of Art? Museum Responds to Almagia Investigation

The Dallas Museum of Art contacted Italian authorities this month seeking information about three objects the museum acquired from antiquities dealer Edoardo Almagia, who is currently under investigation for trafficking in looted antiquities.

Almagia has been under investigation since at least 2006, when US Customs agents raided his New York apartment, and was the subject of a New York Times story in 2010 that revealed he and Princeton curator Michael Padgett were the target of an Italian investigation into the illicit antiquities trade.

Dallas’  inquiry came last month — two weeks after our initial inquiry about the objects and a week after Italy’s Carabinieri art squad held a press conference announcing that some 200 objects and fragments tied to Almagia had been returned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Princeton University Art Museum. (See our earlier post here.)

A museum spokeswoman said Italian authorities have not (yet) made a request for the return of the objects. “The press conference in Rome on January 20, 2012 prompted a review of acquisitions made by the DMA that were connected with Edoardo Almagia,” said museum spokeswoman Jill Bernstein. “Our director Maxwell Anderson emailed [Carabinieri] Comandante Pasquale Muggeo and Avv. Maurizio Fiorilli on January 27 to alert them to the presence of three works sold to us in 1998 by Almagia, and soliciting any information they might have about these works.”

The museum has since listed the objects on the AAMD’s object registry, as noted by David Gill at Looting Matters. Here are the Almagia objects, along with their collecting histories, which were provided by the DMA:

Two Etruscan funerary shields from the 6th century BC depicting the man-bull deity Acheloos. The museum purchased the shields from Almagia in 1998. They were “reputedly in a European collection” prior to sale, but the museum has no additional information about that collection.

The DMA’s website notes that “comparable examples have been found stacked up in a tomb near Tarquinia,” a UNESCO World Heritage site whose Etruscan necropolis has been devastated by looting.

Volute krater by the Underworld Painter. This Apulian vase from the 4th century BC represents the twelfth labor of Hercules, in which he saved the Golden Apples of the Hesperides from the giant Ajax.

The DMA bought the object in 1998 from Almagia, who claimed it came from an “unnamed English collection.”

Such vases from the South Italian region of Pulia have been the subject of widespread looting, as documented in the groundbreaking study by Boston University archaeologist Ricardo Elia’s “Analysis of the looting, selling, and collecting of Apulian red-figure vases: a quantitative approach.” (In Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage, edited by N. Brodie, J. Doole, and C. Renfrew, pp. 145-53. Cambridge: McDonald Institute, 2001)

We asked the DMA about several other acquisitions of ancient art purchased in recent years, when most museums were tightening their standards in the wake of revelations about their role in the illicit antiquities trade. Several of the DMA’s acquisitions were purchased from dealers or auction houses who have been tied to the alleged sale of looted or stolen art in the past. Most of the objects have only vague ownership histories.

A few examples:

This red-figured column krater was purchased in 2008 from Jerry Eisenberg of Royal-Athena Galleries in New York City. It was “reputedly in an English collection” before that. As we reported here, Eisenberg recently returned a bronze statue to Italy that had been stolen from an Italian museum in 1962. UPDATE: Eisenberg noted via email that the vase was also sold at Bonham’s London in October 1999.


The museum has purchased several objects from Robert Haber of Haber and Associates, including this 4th Century Greek funerary wreath. Haber was implicated in the Steinhardt case involving a golden phiale illegally exported from Italy. The wreath’s ownership history lists the Moretti collection from Lugano, Switzerland and George Zacos — the same dealer tied to the Met’s acquisition of the Lydian Hoarde from Turkey.

We’ve posted the list of all 15 DMA objects we inquired about here. These are just a random sampling of recent acquisitions made by the museum.

Maxwell Anderson, the DMA’s new director, has been an outspoken advocate for reform in his past positions, and it will be interesting to watch how he handles these issues at his new post in Dallas. For starters, we hope that Anderson encourages Dallas to be more transparent by posting the provenance information for its considerable collection online. Dallas and other museums should also be more proactive in their investigation of the objects purchased from dealers who have been tied to the illicit trade.

UPDATE: David Gill at Looting Matters has identified a vase at the Tampa Museum of Art acquired from Edoardo Almagia. It appears similar to a vase described in an article by Princeton curator Michael Padgett in Tampa Magazine.

The Met’s Von Bothmer Collection May Be Evidence In Princeton Criminal Case

Former Met antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer

The dozens of vase fragments that the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned  to Italy last month came from the private collection of its former antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer. They were sent to Italy to be used as evidence in the possible criminal trial of antiquties dealer Edouardo Almagia, a Met spokeswoman said.

Von Bothmer acquired his massive personal collection of ancient vase fragments — as many as 15,000 in all — outside of his official duties at the Met, a practice generally frowned upon in museums because it creates a conflict of interest for curators. When von Bothmer died in October 2009, he bequeathed the collection to the Met, which accepted the donation “with the express approval of the Italian Ministry of Culture,” said Met spokeswoman Elise Topalian.

Dietrich von Bothmer

The massive study collection, which has not yet been accessioned or cataloged, includes Greek, Etruscan, and South Italian pottery. “The overwhelming majority of pieces date from the sixth through the fourth century B.C. The core of the collection consists of black-figure and red-figure fragments representing a wide range of Athenian vase-painters and potters as well as of subjects,” Topalian said in an email. “The size of the study collection is such that the accessioning/cataloguing process will be complicated  and lengthy.  The end result will be a database that can be used as a shared resource for research, publication, and display.”

With his photographic memory, von Bothmer had a remarkable talent for spotting fragments missing from Greek vases in collections all around the world, and would often donate his fragments to make those vases more whole. But Italian investigators took a different view of his activities: many of the vase fragments were the product of illicit excavations, they believe, and von Bothmer’s donations seeded the American market with loot.

Robert Hecht poses in front of the famous looted Greek vase he sold the museum in 1972 for $1 million.

As former Getty antiquities curator Marion True described in a 2001 deposition, once a museum had several pieces of an important vase, antiquities dealers would charge increasingly higher prices for the remaining fragments, in effect extorting museums. In that same deposition, True confided that von Bothmer had shown her the precise location where the museum’s prized vase, the Euphronios krater, had been looted in Italy.

Von Bothmer was a client of Almagia for many years, Topalian said. The fragments von Bothmer obtained from the dealer were returned to Italy “to serve as evidence in the investigation and possible trial of Edoardo Almagia.”

Princeton Museum antiquities curator Michael Padgett

Almagia is the antiquities dealer and donor to the Princeton University Art Museum who, along with Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett, is under investigation by Italian authorities for trafficking in looted antiquities. As we reported earlier, the Princeton museum also returned 160 objects and fragments to Italy last month, several of which have been linked to Almagia.

The returns from the Met and Princeton are the first signs of recent activity in the Italian investigation of Padgett and Almagia, which has been going on since at least 2006, when Almagia’s New York apartment was raided by US Customs officials. They may be used as evidence in another criminal case like that of Marion True, which ended in 2010 with no verdict when the statute of limitations expired.

In a Jan 20 press release, Italy’s Carabinieri art squad described the seizure of “copious documentation with photographic material pertaining to sales and loans made ​​by [Almagia].” Using those documents, Italian investigators say they have traced works from Almagia to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Cleveland Museum of Artthe Dallas Museum of Artthe San Antonio Museum of Art; the Toledo Museum of Art; the Tampa Museum of Art; the Indiana University Art Museum, according to the New York Times.

NOTE: Princeton and the Met gave different figures for the number of objects returned than those cited earlier in the week by Italian authorities. Princeton said it returned “six works,” while the Italian release described 160 objects and fragments coming from the museum. The Met said it had sent back “20 fragments (or groups of fragments)” while Italy put the number at 40. The numbers likely reflect different ways of tallying incomplete objects and efforts on all sides to spin the significance of the returns.

SPEAKING OF SPIN: Princeton University has released a statement about the returns. The statement calls the returns evidence of “the museum’s history of successfully resolving ownership claims for works of art in its collections.” Another reading: they’re evidence that the museum — after revising its acquisition policy in 2006 and returning eight antiquities in 2007 — has still not resolved questions about its possession of looted antiquities.

The release says the returns to Italy were initiated by the University after “an internal University analysis related to several items in the museum’s collections.” That analysis has not been released publicly and Princeton is silent about the link to the on-going investigation of Almagia and Padgett, the museum’s antiquities curator. Our request for additional information has not been answered. We hope Princeton will be more forthcoming in the future.

New Wave of Returns: Hundreds of Looted Antiquities Recovered from the Met, Princeton and Others

On Jan 20, the Italian art squad announced the return of more than 200 antiquities from US museums, companies, collectors and dealers — all the product of illegal excavation or theft.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art returned forty pieces belonging to a deceased private collector who has been identified as the museum’s former antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer. Von Bothmer was known to have a large private collection of vase fragments and was fond of reuniting these fragments with vases in known collections. Fabio Isman reports that several of the returned fragments match vases already returned by American museums, including the Getty’s Onesimos kylix, which was potted by the famous Euphronios.

Question: What of the rest of the von Bothmer collection and his considerable personal archive, which no doubt contains a fascinating history of the illicit antiquities trade over the past 50 years? Is it, as this return suggests, in the possession of the Met, and will its contents be made public?

Princeton University Art Museum returned 170 objects and fragments, including: an askos-shaped talus; two statues of women, including one playing a tambourine and the other a lyre; a white pithos with red figures representing animals;  and 166 fragments from vases and architectural elements. The returns appear to be related to the investigation of Edoardo Almagià, the Princeton alum and antiquities dealer who, along with Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett, are targets of an investigation by Italian authorities.

The release states [via Google translation] that the objects “were identified in previous surveys conducted by the [Carabinieri] of the possessions of an Italian-American citizen, resident of New York, who has been the subject of the seizure of numerous archaeological finds, in New York and Rome, and copious documentation with photographic material pertaining to sales and loans made ​​by him.” These seized documents have allowed investigators to trace looted antiquities to prestigious American museums like the Met and Princeton, the release says, adding that the Carabinieri “have thus established, irrefutably, the origin of the objects from illicit excavations made ​​in Italy.” Works from Almagia have also been traced to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Dallas Museum of Art; the San Antonio Museum of Art; the Toledo Museum of Art; the Tampa Museum of Art; the Indiana University Art Museum, The New York Times has reported.

Question: It appears we can now add the Almagia Archive to the trove of documents, photographs and objects that Italian investigators have seized from antiquities dealers Robin Symes, Robert Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici. Given that only Medici has been convicted in Italian court, will these archives, which provide an unprecedented record of the illicit trade, ever be released publicly by Italian authorities?

Princeton and the Met have not yet acknowledged the returns. We’ll post details when they do. In response to a previous request for information, Princeton Museum spokeswoman Cass Cliatt took pains to distance the museum from the Padgett/Almagia case: “The[re] were not and have not ever been any allegations against the University related to the current investigation, and the Italian authorities at no point contacted the University about the current investigation. Great care should be taken about implying a connection.” It is not clear how a criminal investigation into the museum’s curator and a major donor (and alum) have nothing to do with the museum, and these returns only raise further questions. We’ve asked Cliatt for more information and will post it here when it comes.

Other returns announced in the release:

Humana, a Fortune 100 health insurance provider, returned two statues that had graced the lobby of its Louisville headquarters. The first, a second century sculpture depicting the goddess Fortuna, was stolen in October 1986 from an opera house in Rome. The second, a first century marble statue, was illegally excavated in Lazio, Italy and has been linked to the convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici. The release says Humana acquired the statues in 1984 from a New York Gallery and cooperated fully with Italian investigators.

A New York antiquities dealer has returned a bronze statue known as the Venus of St. John Perareto, which was stolen from a museum in Rimini in 1962. UPDATE: Jerome Eisenberg of Royal-Athena Gallery in New York confirms that he is the dealer. In an email, he said he bought the small Venus from an unnamed dealer in Freiburg, Germany in 1982 and was offering it for $22,500.

An ancient parchment stolen from Bari was identified and returned with the help of FBI officials in Chicago. And bronze grave goods from the first century were returned “a genuine gesture of respect for the Italian people” by contemporary artist Edward Giobbi, who had inherited them from his father.

Hat-Tip: David Gill at Looting Matters first brought the returns to our attention.

ALSO: Fabio Isman has a story on the returns in Il Messagero.