March 16, 2018

Is art crime understudied? We think so, but you can help us change that.

Who studies art crime?

ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is still accepting applications.

Late applications will be accepted through 30 April subject to census limitations. 

In 2009, ARCA started the first of its kind, interdisciplinary, approach to the scholarly study of art crime. Representing a unique opportunity for individuals interested in training in a structured and academically diverse format, the summer-long postgraduate program is designed around the study of the dynamics, strategies, objectives and modus operandi of criminals and criminal organizations who commit a variety of art crimes.  

Turn on the news (or follow this blog) and you will see over and over again examples of museum thefts, forgeries, antiquities looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods.  Intentional heritage destruction during armed conflict, once a modern-day rarity, now affects multiple countries and adds to regional instability in many areas of the globe.  Looted art, both ancient and Holocaust-related, finds its way into the galleries of respected institutions, while auction houses and dealers continue to be less than adept at distinguishing smuggled and stolen art, from art with a clean provenance. Thus making dealing with art crime an unrelenting problem and one without any easy solution.

Taken incident by incident, it is difficult to see the impact and implications of art crime as a global concern, but when studied across disciplines, looking at the gaps of legal instruments, country to country, one begins to have a clearer picture of the significance of the problem and its impact on the world's collective patrimony.

The world's cultural heritage is an invaluable legacy and its protection is integral to our future. 

Here are 11 reasons why you should consider joining us for a summer in Amelia, Italy for ARCA's 10th edition of its postgraduate program. 

At its foundation, ARCA's summer-long program in Italy draws upon the overlapping and complementary expertise of international thought-leaders on the topic of art crime – all practitioners and leading scholars who actively work in the sector. 

In 2018, participants of the program will receive 220+ hours of instruction from a range of experts actively committed to combatting art crime from a variety of different angles.

One summer, eleven courses.

Taught by:

Fabrizio Rossi, whose law enforcement experience with the Italian Carabinieri's  art squad delves into criminal investigations surrounding plunder. His tireless work reminds those interested in purchasing ancient art, be it from well-known dealers or auction houses, that crimes committed 40 years ago still taint many of the artifacts and fine art that find their way into the illicit art market today.

London art editor and lecturer Ivan Macquisten who eloquently paints a picture of the burgeoning business which is art, whilst examining the interplay between our cultural obsession with risk and collecting.  Macquisten disentangles the paradoxical alliances between the financially lucrative art market and the collector relationships that feed upon the art market's unregulated trade, sometimes profiteering from the lack of transparency in its transactions.

Duncan Chappell, the Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence in Policing and Security. Chappel is a national award winner for his lifetime achievements in criminology and will be lecturing on the growing number of bilateral, regional and global legal agreements that reflect a growing realization that transnational art crime has to be addressed through international cooperation, and that just as criminal groups operate across borders, judicial systems must consequently do the same.  

Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of HARP, the Holocaust Art Restitution Project who will lecture on the variations among countries’ historical experiences and legal systems, as well as the complexities of provenance research and the establishment of claims processes. Focusing not only on the implementation of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-confiscated art but also on modern-day examples that underscore the difficulties facing any heir in recovering their property, Masurovsky underscores the need for fully trained provenance experts within museums and auction houses. 

Richard Ellis, private detective and the founder of the Metropolitan Police-New Scotland Yard Art and Antiques Squad.  His law enforcement background reminds us that trafficking in art and antiquities provides criminals with an opportunity to deal in high value commodities that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify and easy to transport across national boundaries. Ellis' lectures paint a little-talked-about portrait of the motley cast of characters who operate in the high-stakes world of the art crime.  His course introduces students to sophisticated criminal organizations, individual thieves, small-time dealers and unscrupulous collectors who don't just dabble in hot art, but who also may be involved in other crimes, such as the smuggling and sale of other illicit commodities, corruption or money-laundering.

Criminal defense attorney and criminologist Marc Balcells, whose animated lectures on the anatomy and etiology of art crimes will illustrate that even if every art crime is unique unto itself, often the underlying causes of criminal behaviors fit into certain established patterns.  With Edgar Tijhuis, students will explore various theories of crime causation each of which are key to understanding the crime and the criminal as well as evaluating its danger to our cultural patrimony.

Museum security and risk management expert Dick Drent, whose role in the recovery of two Van Gogh paintings from a Camorra reminds us that finding stolen works of art is much harder than protecting them in the first place, especially when organized crime is involved. In Drent's course students will learn about safeguarding culture before it goes missing, analyzing practical approaches to securing a collection, using risk and decision analysis as a form of analytics to support risk-based decision in museums, galleries and reference institutions around the globe.

New Zealand District Court Judge and founding trustee of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, Arthur Tompkins who gives us a fast-galloping 2000-year romp through the history of art crimes committed during war and armed conflict. Tompkins reminds us that armed conflict, whether interstate or intrastate, poses various threats to cultural monuments and cultural property and that while laws have been enacted in an attempt to prevent or reduce these dangers; better laws are also needed to sort matters out after the fact.

Independent art & insurance advisory expert Dorit Straus, who serves as a member of AXA ART Americas Board of Directors and Presidential appointee to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) explores the worlds of specialist fine art insurers and brokers, who underwrite the risks associated with the fine art market.  As the former Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son, she knows firsthand the active, financially-motivated role insurance firms play in analyzing the risks involved in owning, dealing, buying, transporting or displaying art to the public.  While art insurance expertise is sometimes overlooked as a less-than-sexy side of the art world, insurers have served to make galleries, museums and private collector's collections safer, as their oversight and contract stipulations have produced a dramatic reduction in attritional losses.

ARCA's founding director, Noah Charney who draws upon his knowledge of art history and contemporary criminal activity to explore several of the most notorious cases of art forgery. Emphasizing that art forgery not only cheats rich buyers and their agents, ruining reputations, his course illustrates how crime distorts the art market, one which once relied heavily on connoisseurship, by messing with its objective truth.

Valerie Higgins, archaeologist and Program Director for the master's in art management program at the American University in Rome examines material culture as the physical evidence of a culture's existence, illustrating that through objects; be they artworks, religious icons, manuscripts, statues, or coins, and through architecture; monumental or commonplace, we can and should preserve the powerfully potent remains which truly define us as human.

For more information on the summer 2018 postgraduate professional development program, please see ARCA's website here.

To request further information or to receive a 2018 prospectus and application materials, please email:
education (at)

Interested in knowing more about the program from a student's perspective?

Here are some blog posts from and by students who have attended in 20162015, 2014, and in 2013.

March 4, 2018

Art Crime Book Review: Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime during War

 Book Title: Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime during War
Author: Arthur Tompkins

Publisher: Lund Humphries, March 2018
Book Reviewer: Penelope Jackson

The cover says it all.  A lone American soldier is dwarfed by the surrounding stash of bundles, that look suspiciously like paintings, in a church at the Weissenburg-Guzenhausen Residence at Ellingen, Germany, in 1945. The juxtaposition of the church’s lavish interior - used as storage for plundered art - with the soldier is a poignant reminder of the scale of wartime seizures and the enormity of a problem that is as old as art itself and continues to the present day.  This image is on the cover of Arthur Tompkins’ Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime during War, an epic read about the victims of war, art and cultural heritage.

Many readers will personally know, or know of Arthur Tompkins, for his scholarship about art crime during war.  For several years Tompkins has taught at home (New Zealand) and abroad through the ARCA postgraduate program in art crime and cultural heritage protection (Italy) on this topic and his latest book brings together years of research, thought, and analysis about the art crimes committed during war. 

Plundering Beauty is a long journey of crimes waged on art.  Beginning with exploring the nuances of why art crimes are committed during war, Tompkins embarks on a journey beginning 2000 years ago in Rome.  Bit by bit, he un-packages this history of atrocities inflicted on art, both individual pieces as well as collections.  Significant (and now famous because of their chequered past) artworks have always been pawns in much bigger context of war booty and in Plundering Beauty we are presented case after case as evidence of this.  

Plundering Beauty’s catalogue of art crimes continues through to the present day, and not surprisingly, demonstrates the failure of humankind to learn from earlier histories.  We are familiar with the crimes committed in present-day Syria and Iraq, and Tompkins’ book is a brutal reminder of these as he provides us with a much wider and broader context, and specific art and cultural object crimes.  

Plundering Beauty does not pretend to be a complete history of art crimes committed during war (I couldn’t help but think while reading this new narrative about all the art crimes committed during war that we do not know about, or have an inkling of but do not know the details of).  What Tompkins does provide us with is a cross-section of case studies over time.  Wherever there is an art history there is a history of art crime and more often than not, crimes that are bound up in war.  Tompkins provides an alternative art history that for so long was ignored by writers.  

I get the sense that Tompkins has his clear favourites, and why shouldn’t he?  He is passionate about his subject matter and it shows.  The Four Horses of the Basilica of St Mark and Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana are up there.  It is not always about the actual artwork being discussed but rather the back-stories and layers of unravelling necessary to try and see reasons for such crimes.  Discussed in detail, yet in a very readable manner, Tompkins’ attention to detail and leaving no stone unturned is in part due to his day job – a judge.  And as the reader you feel satisfied with how he presents each case.  

A reminder though, is that this a book about crime, and as always with crime, not all cases are solved.  For example, Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man sadly remains at large.  Other artworks are re-discovered or have closure many years after the original crime.  Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is a case in point.  The work, seized by the Nazis during World War II was eventually reunited with the owner’s heirs in 2006 after what Tompkins describes as a tortuous legal battle fought in both Austria and the United States.

The narrative is chronological making it easier to align with world history and art history, as written in the Western tradition.  Plundering Beauty also reveals the unfair nature of art crimes during war.  Take Johannes Vermeer for instance.  He only painted approximately 35 works total during his entire working career and yet three feature in this book.  Perhaps this is because they’re stunning works, much adored and highly desirable.  It could be that they are small and therefore easy to plunder.  Tompkins inspires his reader to ruminate on such matters, meaning the book’s contents stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.  

Illustrated with 52 colour images, Plundering Beauty is well presented.  Tompkins, with his usual vigour (he’s also an endurance athlete) and rigour, has produced a book that is both a scholarly volume and is very accessible for those uninitiated about art crime.  Collectively, wartime art crimes are colossal, seen in the evidence set out clearly in Plundering Beauty.  As Tompkins eloquently notes in his introduction:

The stories of the crimes committed against art during war, the saving and return of art after long and unforeseen journeys, and the villains and the heroes of those episodes, are the stories that Plundering Beauty tells. (p.13)

The irony in the title’s principal words, Plundering Beauty, is very purposeful; that humankind has victimised their most precious objects in a variety of ways for centuries, and continue to do so, should be a universal lesson going forward. Underpinning most publications about art crime in recent years are strategies around curbing art crimes, present and future.  Tompkins joins this tradition when he laments in his final sentence in relation to Iraq and Syria,

But sadly the raging assault on the world’s art and cultural heritage during war continues. (p.168)

March 2, 2018

Repatriations - a 17th century Italianate landscape and a first century CE marble sculpture depicting Aphrodite

Two months into the new year brings with it two significant repatriations for objects stolen in Italy and illegally transferred for sale on foreign art markets.  Both artworks, an oil painting and a marble statue, were discovered during auction sales, despite having been stolen in Italy. 

This week a 17th century Italianate landscape, attributed to either Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765) or Andrea Locatelli (1695-1741), has made its way home to Italy.  

Donated in 1892 by the Italian noble Torlonia family, the oil painting was stolen on January 1, 1994.  In November 2017 the artwork was identified by the Italian authorities when it came up for sale at a London auction house. Its starting bid: 40.000 GBP.

At some point the painting appears to have passed through the hands of the Roman branch of the London auction house, before being transferred to London for sale.  Under Italy’s Cultural Heritage Code any artwork created more than fifty years ago (i.e. before 1947 in this case) by a deceased artist requires an export licence in order to be exported.  No information has been released by the Italian authorities as to if the consigner provided the auction house with such a document and if so, if that document was valid or fabricated.  

After this week's press conference, the painting will be returned to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and reintegrated into the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica where it will go on display at either the the Palazzo Barberini or the Palazzo Corsini. 

One month earlier, on January 30, 2018 the Carabinieri reported that a first century CE marble sculpture depicting the torso of the goddess Aphrodite had also been repatriated to Italy.  This marble statue, with an estimated value of €300.000 had been stolen in 2011 from the University of Foggia and was identified by Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale for sale in Munich Germany in 2013. 

In the scope of a lengthy investigation, Italian and German authorities identified identified an organized smuggling ring, operating between Italy and Germany, where looted antiquities plundarded from Italy passed from the hands of a looter, through a  middleman, who carried out the deliveries abroad, on to the individual in Germany who sold objects to collectors interested in antiquities in Germany. 

In 2016, when those involved in this trafficking operation were taken into custody, more than 2,500 objects were seized which had not yet made their way to Germany.   The statue of Aphrodite, was returned to Italy via international letters rogatory and with cooperation from the German authorities as well as the Public Prosecutor's Office of Rome. 

Museum Theft: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza - Faenza, Italy

Vestibule, Maestro of Faenza Sec. XIII
Crucifixion and descent into limbo
panel painting, 35x28 cm.  + frame 15 cm., N. inv. 98
Image Credit: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza
Discovered missing on Thursday morning, March 01, 2018, a small panel painting, dating back to the 1200s attributed to the Maestro of Faenza has been reported stolen from the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza.

The oldest Museum in Faenza, established in 1797, when the municipality purchased Giuseppe Zauli's art collection, the Pinacoteca's core collection centers on paintings and sculptures from the 13th to the 18th century. The stolen panel painting, attributed to the Maestro of Faenza, depicts two scenes, the crucifixion of Christ on the top portion of the panel and his descent into limbo on the bottom.  The framed panel had been on public display in the Hall of the Vestibule, where it was hung to the left of the Crocefisso del Maestro Francescano in Gallery 6. 

According to a televised report given by Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca, the theft was discovered during a morning walkthrough by personnel on Monday who discovered the empty frame and backboard mounting discarded in the gallery where the artwork had been hung.  

Given the panel painting's small size, the artwork may have been hidden under  the thief's winter clothing at some point during museum opening hours though the date of the theft itself still unclear. 

This is the third theft of sacred art in Italy to have occured in a one week period.  All three thefts have occured in the region of Emilia-Romagna. 

During an early morning religious service at the Chiesa del Suffragio in Rimini a thief or thieves stole the crown and veil of a Madonna, Our Lady of Sorrows,  a statue dating back to the 1700s from the Church’s main nave.  The theft apparently occurred while mass was taking place in a smaller adjoining side chapel. 

An almost identical theft took also was carried out at the Cathedral of Cervia,  in the province of Ravenna, where the crown adorning a statue of Our Lady of Fire also disappeared.

Two of these thefts, the one in Faenza and Cervia both occurred in the province of Ravenna.  The third theft in Rimini occured in a coastal town in the same region (Emilia-Romagna). 

Director Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza believes the theft from his museum gallery is indisputably a theft to order, given the object is well documented in public records and would be unsellable on the licit art market. If his assumption is correct, and coupled with these other two thefts, the string of the events seem to illustrate an interesting organizational structure to a coordinated series of thefts, likely committed to sustain the black market for religious art.

The theft is being investigated by the Carabinieri.