February 10, 2017

Repatriation: Stolen Greek sarcophagus fragment heading home

Image Credits: ARCA
Sarcophagus fragment depicting battle between Greeks and Trojans
Just one month after an illicit sarcophagus fragment was reported to Matthew Bogdanos, Assistant District Attorney for New York in Manhattan, the object is heading back to its rightful home in Greece.  

Pictured in the four photographs above, the fragment of this sarcophagus was laundered through the licit art market, making its way to New York via Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina and ultimately to the gallery windows of Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery operated by Jerome Eisenberg which specialises in ancient Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Egyptian art.

Details on the supporting documentation which reflects the object's looting and laundering gathered together and presented to authorities by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis can be found in an earlier ARCA blog post here

Gianfranco Becchina is a name well known to those who follow the trade of illicit antiquities.  His role in the trafficking of looted objects first drew Italian prosecutors interest following the death of Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man trafficker, who lost control of his car on Italy’s Autostrada del Sole, Italy's north-south motorway, as he approached the exit for Cassino, a small town an hour and a half south of Rome.  Smashing into a guardrail and flipping his Renault on its roof, Camera’s automobile accident not only ended his life but set into motion a chain reaction that resulted in the identification of one of the world's most well known antiquities trafficking networks. one responsible for the systematic spoliation of the artistic heritage of Southern Italy and Greece. 

The Greek sarcophagus fragment was handed over by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Assistant District Attorney to Dr. Constantine Koutras, the Consul General of Greece in a formal ceremony in New York today.

During the event District Attorney Vance stated:

“Trafficked antiquities often acquire a veneer of legitimacy after the passage of time or changes in ownership.....Galleries, auction houses, and art collectors, however, should be on alert that my office and our partners in law enforcement are closely following the listing and sale of items of suspicious or dubious provenance. As looting becomes more common, collectors must exercise greater scrutiny when it comes to evaluating whether an item may have been unlawfully acquired. To do otherwise is to implicitly endorse an unacceptable practice through willful ignorance. I thank our partners for their commitment to ending the trade of stolen antiquities, and today, I am gratified to return another treasured artifact to its rightful owner, the Hellenic Republic and people of Greece.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told reporters at the repatriation ceremony that as the owner of the gallery, unnamed during the press conference, had forfeited the sarcophagus voluntarily when presented with the evidence of its provenance, and nobody from the gallery will face prosecution.

This is not the first time that Royal Athena Galleries has been made to forfeit looted antiquities as can be noted here, here, and here.

ARCA would like to extend its heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Tsirogiannis.  His identification of this fragment made its repatriation possible.  

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