Tag Archives: Princeton University Art Museum

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.

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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.