Showing posts with label art theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art theft. Show all posts

October 4, 2017

Art Theft Exhibited - A unique exhibit of thirty years of art thefts in Holland

Westfries Museum director Ad Geerdink in Kiev, standing next to
the recovered painting "Lady World".  Image Credit: Westfries Museum

It was a Sunday night in October 1999 when a group of masked men entered the villa of the 84 year old lady in Bilthoven.  The fragile woman was smashed against a radiator and guarded, while other robbers emptied the walls and took seven masterpieces within fifteen minutes.  The brutal robbery had an enormous impact on her, one of which she would never recover.  It was only in 2012 when one of the paintings was offered at Christie’s and recognized by the auction house staff.  The fences were arrested and four more paintings were recovered, together with several types of drugs. For the owner, the recovery came too late.  She had died several months before.

This tragic history is one of thirty stories of art thefts in the Netherlands that together make up the unique exhibition Plunder, Art Theft in the Netherlands, opening October 15th in the Westfries Museum in Hoorn.  For the first time, art crime is the subject of an exhibition in the Netherlands, instead of the art works themselves. 

And for anyone interested in art crime, the Westfries Museum probably rings a bell.  It is the museum that was robbed in 2005, the night before it was scheduled to celebrate its 125th birthday.  Twenty four paintings were stolen, together with 70 pieces of antique silver from the museum's collection. 

In April 2016, four paintings were recovered in the Ukraine and a fifth was later voluntarily returned by its new owner.  In September that year, they were returned to the museum, some in very bad condition requiring extensive restoration.  The fifteen other paintings and silverware still remain missing. 

Through this exhibit the museum aims to highlight the phenomenon of art theft in all its facets.  From the motives of perpetrators to the suffering of victims.  Thirty objects are used to demonstrate this.  The singular thing each object has in common is the fact that they each were stolen in the Netherlands during the last few decades.  Every item tells its own story and together they provide a fascinating look into the world of art and antiquities crime. 

Even for someone familiar with art crime, the enormous diversity of the objects stolen is striking.  Examples of works of art stolen from museums are supplemented with art stolen from private residences, art dealers and even a whole truck of art and antiquities destined for an art fair.  One artist was robbed many times with a total loss of 27 bronze statues, another lost 37 of his paintings in one single theft.  The motives of the thieves are less diverse, and show the ugly reality of art theft.  In the end it usually comes down to money, even when the modus operandi may differ. 

Theft for ransom, stolen art as collateral for criminals, theft in order to sell the works at auction or to dealers, and even theft to order from a dealer are all present in one remarkable exhibition.  The latter case is especially interesting as this type of theft is often suspected but rarely proven.  

In preparing this article, I spoke with the museum about the purpose of this exhibition, in their museum that was, and still is, a victim of art crime itself.  Ad Geerdink, the director or the Westfries Museum, explains: 

We want to achieve more awareness and public outrage about this topic.  But also to ensure that owners of art and antiquities are more conscious of what they themselves can do themselves to prevent thefts. Or, in the unfortunate case a theft nevertheless happens, to ensure they have adequate documentation for police agencies and registers of stolen art.  For that reason, we decided to organise a workshop around the exhibition, in collaboration with Donatus Insurance and Kerkmagazine (Church Magazine), for administrators of religious heritage. 

Documentation, or the lack of it, is a recurring theme around art thefts. When asked about the lessons one can learn from this exhibit and art theft in general, Martin Finkelnberg also stresses the importance of documentation.  Finkelnberg is head of the Art and Antique Crime Unit, National Criminal Intelligence Division of the National Police of the Netherlands.

The takeaway to learn here is that everything of value is vulnerable and thus a potential target for criminals.  To guard against that it's very important to document every valuable object as without documentation recovery after a theft is almost impossible.  Everybody already understands that to recover from an automobile theft, the owner cannot merely state “it was a green car of a German brand”.  Why then do individuals assume that one can do this with an artwork.  How effective can police officers be if the only thing they have to go on is “it was old, multicolored and painted on wood”?

Dick Drent, associate director with Sosecure and owner of Omnirisk, a risk management firm, also points to the need for improved and more comprehensive protection of cultural heritage.  As an international protective intelligence expert on the security of cultural heritage, I spoke with him in Amsterdam about this upcoming exhibition and he had this to add:

It is a very special exhibition about a topic shrouded by sensation and even romance. But wouldn’t it be great if there would never be a sequel.  Instead we should have an exhibit about the successful protection of cultural heritage, by preventing these awful raids through pro-active security.  I already have a title: “The Netherlands - 30 years without art theft. Utopia or challenge?”. But above all, let’s not wait for another 30 years for this exhibit…

The exhibition ‘Plunder, Art Theft in the Netherlands’ will open on October 15, 2017 and run through February 12, 2018 at the Westfries Museum, Roode Steen 1, Hoorn (The Netherlands).  ARCA’s CEO Lynda Albertson will be speaking at the official opening of the exhibition, together with the Secretary of Culture of the Netherlands. 

By Edgar Tijhuis

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Check out this video of the restoration work process on the Westfries Museum paintings recovered in the Ukraine. 

Restauratie gestolen kunst Westfries Museum, deel 1 from Westfries Museum on Vimeo.



April 7, 2017

CCTV footage released of suspects who stole two iconic Māori paintings in Auckland, NZ

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
CCTV footage released by Auckland City Police shows blurry images of two men, wearing bandanas, black gloves and dark sweatshirts involved in the smash and grab burglary at Parnell’s International Art Center last Saturday.  

According to eyewitness testimony, a stolen Ford Courier ute (utility vehicle) drove up Parnell Road between 3:30 and 4:00 am on April 01, 2017 to the front of the gallery, where it then turned and reversed into the plate glass window at the front of the gallery allowing access to the artworks. 

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
One suspect exited the ute at or near the same time a second vehicle, a white 2016 Holden Commodore, pictured below, arrived driven by an accomplice.  Both men then entered the gallery through the broken window and made off with two iconic Māori portraits of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure, by Gottfried Lindauer. 

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
Lindauer, a Czech-born Kiwi artist painted in the the late 19th and early 20th century.  He is famous for painting detailed portraits of Māori in customary Māori attire, often with pounamu toki ornaments. 

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure was painted in 1884 and is valued at $350,000 - $450,000 NZD.  It shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and she is wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring. 

The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was also painted in 1884 and has the same estimated value.  This portrait shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. 

Earlier this week a third Gottfried Lindauer portrait, of Chief Renata Kawepo sold for $227,000 at Dunbar Sloane, New Zealand's leading and largest auctioneer of fine art and antiques showing the value of this artist's portraiture. Previously, the highest price paid for a Lindauer portrait sold was $198,000.

Any information on the thieves or the white 2016 Holden Commodore should be reported to Auckland City Police on (09) 302 6832, or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 3, 2017

Art Theft Alert: What the Guardian later called a “garden variety ram-raid”


What the Guardian later called a “garden variety ram-raid” happened around 4:00 am on the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2016. In a tree-lined upmarket street close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand, a vehicle, later recovered by police at the scene, smashed the plate-glass front window of the International Art Centre in Parnell.  A sign written on the window had proclaimed that an “Important and Rare Art” auction was to take place a few days later.  A second vehicle was reportedly seen leaving the scene shortly afterwards.

Displayed in the gallery’s window, and taken during the raid, were the intended centrepieces of that auction: two companion portraits, painted by Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, entitled Chieftainess Ngati-Raure and Chief Ngati-Raure.

The auction house selling the works had valued them in the run-up to the auction at around NZ $350,000 - $450,000 each. Local art world figures expressed dismay at the thefts, characterising Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.” Immediate and extensive publicity both in New Zealand and elsewhere would seem to ensure that a legitimate mainstream sale or disposal of the artworks appears unlikely.  



Within 24 hours media reports tentatively drew a possible link with earlier and speculative internet chatter expressing anger that the portraits of two ancestors were being offered for sale rather than returned to the descendents of the sitters, but in the hours and days after the raid, little is known for certain and the works remain missing. 

Any information can be relayed to New Zealand Police in Auckland Police on:
00 64 9 302 6832 

or anonymously to the New Zealand Crimestoppers tip-line: 
0800 555 111

By Judge Arthur Tompkins

February 16, 2017

Recovered: Here's lookin' at you kid. Stolen in Italy and found in Casablanca.

Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist
and Gregory Healer" (1639)
oil on canvas 293x184.5 cm

Stolen in Modena, Italy on August 10-11, 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo, the painting "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer" by Guercino has been recovered in Morocco.*

At the time of the theft, if was believed that the art thief had hidden himself away inside the church until everyone had departed after the afternoon Sunday mass. The parish priest of San Vincenzo noticed something was afoot when he passed by the church the following morning and came across the primary door of the church open, with no signs of forced entry. This door was not equipped with an external mechanism for opening so either the thief waited inside after the mass had concluded or he had gained entry through a secondary door at the rear of the church.

When the theft was announced to the public Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi criticised the Curia's for its lack of security, especially in light of the numerous petty thefts which had plagued nearby churches in the city recently.  He estimated that the stolen painting, by the an Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, best known as Guercino, or Il Guercino, could be worth as much as five to six million euros, though he stated clearly that there was no market for stolen, easily identifiable religious works of art.  

Replica of "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer"
inside the Church of San Vincenzo

The city of Modena and the church's priest and patrons were heartbroken. Not only had their painting been in the church since it was constructed, but the church itself stood near the city's courthouse, which is guarded round the clock. How was it that no one noticed anyone exiting the church with a painting under their arm?

This no one could say. 

Flash forward to February 2017 where three fences offer the historic painting to a wealthy businessman in Casablanca, Morocco for a cool 10 million dirhams (€940,000). Recognizing Guercino's masterpiece, the man declined and alerted the police judiciaire du Hay Hassani de Casablanca who then arrested the three suspects. One of the three, possibly the original thief, was a Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Italy for a considerable period of time.  

Here's lookin' at you police judiciaire du Hay Hassani. (**) Bogart, 'Casablanca'

------------------------------------

Update: * The procedure for restitution is now under way between the Moroccan authorities and the Italian Embassy in Morocco.

February 15, 2017

Boston University Students Foil Art Gallery Robbery

Galerie D’Orsay owner Susan Hirshberg (CAS’90) with the Questrom students
who stopped a robbery at her gallery after the Super Bowl: Chris Savino (Questrom’17),
Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom’17), Hirshberg, and Jesse Doe (Questrom’17).

Guest Writer: Rich Barlow barlowr@bu.edu
Originally published in: BU Today

Chris Savino’s hometown of Ridgefield, Conn., was found to be “the safest town in America” last year by an online database of neighborhoods. But college is supposed to expand your horizons, and Boston exposed Savino and two fellow Questrom School of Business seniors face-to-face with a crime in the making last week.

They were the crime-fighters, thwarting an art gallery heist.

Walking back to campus after midnight February 6 from the Boston Common, where thousands of New England Patriots fans had been celebrating the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons just hours before, Savino (Questrom’17), Jesse Doe (Questrom’17), and Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom’17) came upon a man emerging from the smashed glass door of Galerie d’Orsay on Newbury Street [in Boston, Massachusetts] with five artworks worth $45,000. They chased and held 29-year-old Jordan Russell Leishman until a passing policeman arrested him for breaking and entering.

Arraigned in Boston Municipal Court, Leishman is being held without bail for a previous assault case, according to the Boston Globe. He’s also wanted in New Hampshire on a charge of narcotics possession.

Galerie d’Orsay’s managing partner happens to be a Terrier too. Sallie Hirshberg (CAS’90) met the three students for the first time this past Saturday at the gallery, where she’d arranged an interview with BU Today. (She lives in Florida and was in Boston for business.)

“I’m Sallie—thank you so much!” Hirshberg greeted the three students as they entered, hugging Thompson, who at 6-foot-3 had to bend down for the embrace. His size was crucial in foiling the robbery. The trio had chosen to return to campus via Newbury Street instead of nearby, more boisterous Boylston Street. “We were pretty much the only people there, except for a couple walking down the street,” Thompson says.

And except for Leishman.

The gallery’s surveillance video shows he had smashed the glass in the door, which opens into a small vestibule with an inner door. (The police report about the incident says rocks were found in the vestibule, and that both of Leishman’s hands had cuts.) He broke the glass in that door, too, then waited a good 20 minutes, Hirshberg says (perhaps to see if he’d tripped an alarm, she speculates). Finally, he wandered into the gallery, removing from the walls etchings by Picasso and Rembrandt and lithographs by Joan Miró and Marc Chagall.

“He took from Chagall’s most important body of work,” a lithograph from the Russian-French master’s Daphnis and Chloé series, she says. That piece, worth $18,000, is the most expensive he tried to snatch.

“He had good taste…he pulled a Miró, a Rembrandt, and two Chagalls,” she notes, but he passed up far more expensive works, among them a $90,000 Picasso and a Rembrandt valued at the same amount.

Leishman’s break-in triggered a motion-sensitive alarm, Hirshberg says. He left the largest of the artworks at the front door and proceeded down the steps with the other four, just as the BU students, with Thompson and Doe in the lead, were walking toward the gallery.

“I thought to myself, oh, he might be an employee just working there,” Thompson says. “But once we got right in front of the store, we heard the alarm, we saw the smashed glass, and he comes out with the paintings.” In a matter-of-fact tone, Thompson describes what he said to Doe: “‘I think he just stole those. We should probably do something.’”

They sprinted after Leishman. “He tried to book it,” dropping the paintings, Thompson says. But he wasn’t fast enough for Thompson, who caught him at the corner of Newbury and Berkeley Streets and grabbed him from behind in a bear hug. Acting on adrenaline, none of the pursuers had thought about whether Leishman might be armed, but as Thompson held him, his quarry tried to reach in his pockets. “I thought he might have been reaching for a weapon or something, so I pushed him up against a US mailbox on the corner, trying to pin his arms.” (The police report doesn’t mention Leishman having a weapon.)

Thompson says Leishman protested: “Why are you holding me so tight? You can let me go, I’m not going to run away.” Meanwhile, Savino held the paintings aloft to flag down a passing police car. When the officer approached, Thompson says, Leishman “tried pinning it on us, saying we jumped him.” The officer, obviously, didn’t buy it.

The three students were home by about 1 a.m., although the officer later called Thompson for more information. The police returned the paintings to the gallery, Hirshberg says, and called its operations director, who happened to be returning to Boston on a wee-hours flight. She had the broken doors boarded up to secure the gallery.

According to Hirshberg, the artwork was undamaged save for the gold-leaf frames, which will cost about $5,000 to repair. This was the first attempted robbery in the gallery’s 16 years. It also may be a footnote in Boston history: the officer told Thompson that during all that night’s raucous Super Bowl celebrating, this was the only arrest made in the city.

“I texted my parents later that night,” Savino says. Not wanting to worry them in the safest town in America, he began his text, “Everything’s OK,” before describing the experience. “I got a call five seconds later from my mom—you know, ‘What happened? What happened?’”

While Questrom might seem a little gray-flannel for such heroics—Doe plans to work at an accounting firm after graduation—this was Thompson’s second brush with crime-fighting. As a freshman, he witnessed two guys slashing car tires and yanking hubcaps off an auto at a tire shop on Comm Ave; he called police and drove around in the cop car until they found the suspects and arrested them.

The coincidence of the heroes being from Hirshberg’s alma mater registered less, she says, than the fact that she “was just so grateful. For them to step up and see something that was happening that wasn’t right, and to make it right, was just unbelievable.” In an age not renowned for kindness, she says, the Terrier trio wowed her with “a nice act of humanity.”

To express her gratitude, she’s asked the three students to an upcoming invitation-only opening at the gallery, where she says they can each choose an artwork as a thank-you gift. She’s offered to help them choose, which, given their status as business rather than art appreciation students, was welcome. “I wouldn’t call myself an art aficionado,” Thompson confesses.

Nothing wrong with business students, says Hirshberg: “I probably wouldn’t have the gallery if I hadn’t married the guy in my finance class at BU.”

February 11, 2017

Recovered: More paintings with ties to 'Ndràngheta

“Miracolo di Gesù” (guarigione del nato cieco) 
Italian law enforcement knew they were onto something when a search warrant executed on the apartment of a pensioner in Reggio Calabria turned up a religious painting. Cross checking the canvas, which depicted Christ healing a blind man, with images in "Leonardo", the Italian database of stolen cultural properties overseen by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the officers' search query came back with a positive match to a painting stolen in Randazzo, Sicily in 2001.

A second search warrant was then executed on another apartment in Messina, Sicily titled to the same individual where thirteen other artworks were recovered.


The artworks recovered in Messina are:

“Paesaggio” signed with the initials “a.s.”
“Uomo con Cappello” signed with the initials “bv”
“Natura Morta” by Giuliana Cappello
“Nudo di Donna” by Giuliana Cappello
“Tree and Head” by Salvator Dalì
“Figure su Sfondo Rosso”, by Renato Guttuso
“Combattimento Tra Due Galli” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Folla con Sfondo Sole Rosso e Volto Barbuto” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescatore” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Pescivendolo” by Mario Pinizzotto
“Veduta Urbana con Persone”, by Mario Pinizzotto
“Ponte Vecchio”
A bust of Christ 

The artworks are believed to be a small portion of the collection of 78 year old Calabrian businessman Gioacchino Campolo, who was sentenced in 2011 to 18 years house arrest for criminal association, extortion and usury jointly by the Casalesi clan of the Camorra and the De Stefano 'ndrina, one of the most powerful 'Ndràngheta clans in Reggio Calabria.

Gioacchino Campolo 
With an estimated €320 million in assets Campolo needed a creative form of investment.  He transformed his profits from crime and corruption into forty real estate holdings in Paris, Rome and Reggio Calabria and by buying noteworthy artworks. In 2013, the Italian government formally confiscated 125 works from his collection including paintings by Salvador Dalì, Giorgio De Chirico, Bonalumi, Carrà, Lucio Fontana, Renato Guttuso, Domenico Purificato, Rosai, Mario Sironi, Antonio Ligabue and many others.

Those art works are now part of a permanent exhibition titled “From shadow to light,” housed in a four thousand square meter gallery at the Palace of Culture in Reggio Calabria.


The owner of the properties where the 2017 recent cache of artworks were recovered has been charged with receiving stolen goods and is reported to possibly be a former employee.

By: Lynda Albertson

February 6, 2017

Press conference: The Van Gogh of the Camorra on display at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples

Via Miano, 2, 
80137 Naples, Italy

Live Periscope link to event

Image Credit: sAG
In a standing room only event, the two stolen paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 by Vincent Van Gogh were presented to the international press today at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples Italy.  This press conference follows the convictions of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.  The historic artworks were recovered during a lengthy investigation into the cocaine business overseen by figurative, Raffaele Imperiale.

Image Credit: sAG
The paintings, stolen 14 years ago, will be hosted for just 20 days on the second floor of the Museo di Capodimonte next to the Hall of Caravaggio through February 26, 2017.

Image Credit: ARCA
On hand for the press conference were Antimo Cesaro, State Secretary for Cultural Assets and Activities and Tourism in Italy, Joep Wijnands, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome, Sander Bersée, Director General of Culture and Media of the Ministry of Culture and Science, the Netherlands, Luigi Riello, General Prosecutor of Naples, Giovanni Colangelo, the Public Prosecutor of Naples, Herman Bolhaar, Head of the Dutch Public Prosecutors, Lt. Gen. Giorgio Toschi, Commanding General of the Guardia di Finanza, Gen. B. Gianluigi D'Alfonso, Provincial Commander of the Guardia di Finanza in Italy, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, Head of the Amsterdam Police as well as the undercover officers and investigators most closely connected to this case.

Image Credit: ARCA
Image Credit: ARCA
The Museo di Capodimonte is open every day except Wednesday from 08:30 to 19:30 (last entry at 18:30).

Image Credit: ARCA

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: ARCA



January 31, 2017

If paintings could talk...recovered Van Gogh paintings to go on exhibition in Naples February 6-26 before returning to the Van Gogh Museum


Dear Italian art lovers, 

Despite our lengthy stay in Campania and the hospitality of one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples, it is, unfortunately, time for us to bid your country and its citizens farewell. 

Following the convictions handed down to our kidnappers, by Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti, we no longer need to remain as witnesses to testify to their crimes and have been informed by the judge that we are free to go home.

To show our appreciation to the fine officers of Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, and to the Italian Public Prosecutions office, and to the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and to the Dutch investigators who never gave up looking for us, our owners have persuaded us to stay in Naples for a few weeks longer.  

In this way, true art lovers, and not just mafia camorristi, can enjoy the beauty created by Vincent's fine hand.

Fourteen years and two months is a long time for us to be away from our beloved Netherlands and one of us desperately longs for the gentle touch of a conservator to help us heal from the wounds inflicted by our captors, not to mention the chance to shake this dust from our weary canvasses. 

Despite all that, and while we look forward with anticipation to returning to the Van Gogh Museum, we are happy that the director of the Museo di Capodimonte, Sylvain Bellenger and Axel Rüger, the director of the Van Gogh Museum, have encouraged us to remain for just a short while longer.  Under the care of their staff and advisors, we can rest and be exhibited in an atmosphere more befitting to us than a dusty crawl space behind a mafioso's workout gym. 

Being stolen when your famous only makes you more famous afterwards.  We suspect that for months, if not years to come, people will whisper about us, wondering what we went through and talking about the awful men who thought some day to use us, either for collateral or as a means to reduce their sentences for crimes worse than holding art hostage. 

But we as paintings prefer to dwell upon our younger and more carefree days, newly created on stretched canvas.  We like to remember when our paint was still wet and sand specks stuck to us in Scheveningen, the small fishing village where Vincent set up painting, partly to appease his brother Theo. Or when our Vincent began experimenting with colours to capture his mood at Nuenen, rather than using colours realistically.  Just like he sought, with his course application of paint, to define his own unique style, he brought each one of us to life giving each of us a little bit of his soul.  This is what we like to remember, not Vincent's tortured death and certainly not our time held captive by criminals. 

But enough of this talk about the past, let us try and stay in the present. 

Why don't you pay us a visit before we leave Naples for home?  

I am sure the fine people at the Capodimonte can point you to our room on the second floor.  From what we understand, we will be lodging with quite respectable company, in a room right next to the "Flagellation" by  Caravaggio. 

A hearty handshake in thought, and, believe me, 
yours, 

View of the Sea at Scheveningen 
and 
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Exhibition Dates: 6-26 February
Via Miano, 2, 
80137 Naples, Italy
Hours: 08.30 to 19.30 daily, NOTE:  Museum is closed on Wednesdays
Ticket price: 8 €
Contacts and information: 081 7499111 

January 20, 2017

Camorra bosses convicted, Van Gogh's can go home to Amsterdam.......shortly.


This week Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti handed down more than one hundred years of prison time in the sentencing of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.

The court's adjudication closes down one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples area, paving the way for two recovered Van Gogh paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 to return home to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

The paintings were recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in September 2016 at property occupied by the parents of drug kingpin, Raffaele Imperiale in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, Italy.

On hand for the sentencing hearing of the trial were:

Prosecutor Stefania Castaldi
Prosecutor Maurizio De Marco
Prosecutor Marra Vincenza
Deputy Prosecutor Filippo Beatrice
Prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone
Dutch Liaison Magistrate for Italy Hester van Bruggen
Assistant to the Liaison Magistrate for Italy Royal Netherlands Embassy, Rome Peter Hemmes
Van Gogh Museum Attorney Carel Raymakers

The defendants convicted and sentenced January 19, 2017 include:

Carmine Amato - Before his arrest, Amato was one of Italy's 100 most wanted and dangerous criminals.  Considered the regent of the Amato-Pagano clan, a splinter organised crime group of the Di Lauro clan, dominant in the north of Naples, Amato was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

Vincenzo Scarpa - Drug supplier to Camorra clans in the Vesuvius periphery of the Bay of Naples, including the Gallo-Cavalieri, the Annunziata from Torre Annunziata, the i Falanga of Torre del Greco and the Licciardi of Secondigliano.  Scarpa maintained key alliances with Camorra loyal suppliers based in Spain and the Netherlands. He has been sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

(Fugitive) Raffaele Imperiale - Clan boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa.  Although on the run from the authorities, he admitted to purchasing the Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the prosecuting authorities.  Imperiale was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in absentia.  He is believed to be hiding in Dubai.

Mario Cerrone - Clan affiliate and business partner to Imperiale, who provided evidence to state authorities. Cerrone also led Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, together with the Italian Public Prosecutions office, the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and dedicated Dutch investigators to the whereabouts of the two stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings.  He has been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

Gaetano Schettino - A loyalist and drug broker for Raffaele Imperial, he has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Three unnamed defendants - Sentenced to eight years imprisonment respectively.

Six other defendants are still awaiting the outcome of their judicial proceedings in relation to this criminal investigation.

Originally expected to be held as evidence for future lengthy trials, the court in Naples elected to release the Van Gogh paintings from legal seizure on Thursday.  While talk continues between the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding a brief exhibition in Naples, provided security measures are sufficient to guarantee their safety, the Dutch Impressionist's paintings are expected to be returned to Amsterdam as soon as February.


Once back home, the artworks will go on display at the Van Gogh Museum briefly, in the condition with which they were recovered, to celebrate their return. Then the artworks will undergo close examination and conservation treatment to clean and repair damages sustained during their trubulent time with the Italian crime syndicate.

By: Lynda Albertson


December 23, 2016

Visiting Florence and want to see an exhibition dedicated to art crime? The beauty of art and its appreciation can heal the wounds inflicted.

Visiting Florence between now and February 14, 2017?  

Then you should try and make time to see "La Tutela Tricolore," an exhibition dedicated to the “Custodians of Italy’s cultural identity” at the La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze.



The exhibition opened December 19, 2016, and is made up of eight themed sections, some of which are highlighted here.  Focusing on art crimes in general and highlighting many of the exceptional recoveries that are a result of Italy's unique investment in cultural heritage protection through its  unique-in-the-world Comando Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale dei Carabinieri, the exhibition demonstrates just how diverse "crimes against art" really are.

The event inaugurates the newly opened Aula Magliabechiana, part of a 18 million euro restoration project to overhaul two floors beneath the Biblioteca Magliabechiana.  These renovations not only provide a connection with Vasari’s original building on Piazza Castellani, but create a permanent exhibition space on the ground floor which will be dedicated to temporary exhibits such as this one.


"La Tutela Tricolore's" first section highlights art crimes by terrorism and pays homage to the city of Florence and the Uffizi's recovery from the May 27, 1993 bombing on the museum and the Accademia dei Georgofili.

Long before there was an ISIS, domestic terrorists affiliated with the Italian organised crime group Cosa Nostra placed 280 kilograms of Pentrite and T4 explosives mixed with a small quantity of TNT in a Fiat and left it parked on Via dei Georgofili, just behind the historic Uffizi Gallery's main entrance.  The resulting early morning explosion, caused when the car bomb detonated, created a ten foot wide and six foot deep crater that claimed the lives of five people, including one small, seven-week old, girl. Thirty-three people were treated in local hospitals for their injuries and the scar on the heart of the Renaissance city remains palpable in Florence's architecture and the city's collections.

Serving as a defiant symbol of "defeat through reconstruction," the opening of this Uffizi exhibition space commemorates this mournful occurrence and Florence's determination to overcome its devastating effects.  It serves as a reminder that through solidarity and hope, the beauty of art, and its appreciation and preservation, has the ability to heal wounds, even those inflicted long ago.

Section two of the exhibition highlights Florentine works of art stolen during World War II.  Some of the highlights on display include Labors of Hercules by Antonio Pollaiolo, the Madonna and Child (also called the Tickling Madonna or the Madonna Casini) by Masaccio, and Galatea by Bronzino.

Another section highlights works of art repatriated to Italy from other countries.

Some of the more recent repatriations on display are:

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
The Torlonia Peplophoros, a first-century BC sculpture depicting the body of a young goddess.  The statue is one of 15 stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 which was just returned to Italy on December 7, 2016 from the United States.


An ornate parade wagon dating back to the early seventh century B.C.E., looted from the tomb of a Sabine prince laid to rest within the Colle del Forno necropolis. This wagon and other funerary objects were repatriated July 2016 following extremely difficult and protracted multi-year negotiations with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum in Denmark's capital of Copenhagen.


A second century CE marble head, belonging to a statue of Julia Domna, the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, the founder of the Severan dynasty.  This bust was stolen from the Museo del Canopo at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli in 2012 and was also returned to Italy earlier this month.


This 510 B.C. E Etruscan black-figure kalpis, attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop, was looted by Tombaroli passed through the now well known trafficking network of Gianfranco Becchina before being sold to the Toledo Museum of Art with only a photocopy of two paragraphs typed in German on hotel stationery by the Swiss hotel's owner, stating he had owned it since 1935 as provenance.  As the result of an incriminating polaroid and a Federal Verified Complaint in Forfeiture, the museum was eventually encouraged to return the antiquity to Italy in 2012.

The sixth section highlights the globalization of criminal networks with pieces recovered from the Castellani Goldsmith collection, stolen during a dramatic 2013 Easter weekend jewelry heist the Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia in Rome. As reported on earlier, this museum theft turned out to be a theft-to-order, involving a shady antiquarian, a drug dealer and a Russian with a penchant for gold.


Some of the last objects in the exhibit are the most poignant, and highlight art crimes in war, and the risk to the countries irreplaceable works of art which have been subject to natural disasters like Italy's recent earthquakes that continuously endanger its historic buildings and collections.  These objects remind us that fighting to protect art, against the elements and against the theft and exportation of works of art is a matter of civilisation and is a battle which warrants our full investment and engagement.

This exhibition is free of charge and runs through 14 February 2017 in Florence at:
La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze, Italy
Phone:+39 055 23885
Tues. – Sun. 10 am to 7 pm
(Closed on Mondays)
Entrance from door 2,
guided visits can be requested at: firenzemusei@operalaboratori.com.

December 8, 2016

Repatriation: United States of America v. One Roman Marble Peplophoros Statue Stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome, Italy

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
Guest Blogger: Prince Giuseppe Grifeo di Partanna, Rome

Another work of ancient Italian art, one of 15 statues stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 is finally returning home to Italy from the United States.  

Known as the Torlonia Peplophoros, this first-century BC sculpture depicts the body of a young goddess wearing a body-length garment called a “peplos”. According to the FBI, it had been sold to a private owner in Manhattan in 2001 for approximately $81,000 after first being smuggled into the United States sometime during the late 1990s.  

In a redelivery ceremony on 7 December 2016, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's military art crime police, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, accepted the statue formally on behalf of the country of Italy from United States, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McGarrity of the New York Field Office and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim.  The ceremony took place at the Kingstone Library at the prestigious "New York Historical Society" in Central Park West.

The statue was stolen from Villa Torlonia on the evening of 11 November 1983, when a group of thieves broke into the villa's grounds along the via Nomentana and made off with a haul of fifteen statues plus a variety of other objects. When the city of Rome discovered the theft, its citizens were left both shocked and outraged.  Throughout the passing years, they have never waivered on their resolution to find the missing objects. 

The historic Villa Torlonia and its grounds were purchased by the City of Rome in 1978 and had been left in a state of considerable neglect for at least two decades before a much-needed plan of refurbishment, completed in March 2006, could be agreed upon and funds allocated for the works to be undertaken.   The theft of the objects at the villa occurred during the period of historic site's decay.

From the 17th century until the middle of the 18th century the site of the villa had been a part of the landed patrimony of the Italian noble family Pamphilj who used the semi-rural terrain for agricultural purposes. The land was then purchased by another family of nobility, the Colonna, in 1760 who continued to use the site for the same purpose. 

In 1797 the land was bought by Franco-Italian banker to the Vatican, Prince Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia. In 1806, Torlonia contracted neo-Classic architect Giuseppe Valadier to transform two buildings, the edificio padronale and the casino Abbati into a proper palace. As part of the redevelopment project, he commissioned new stables, outbuildings and formal gardens which he embellished with classical-era statues. 

Much later, in 1919, a Jewish catacomb, dating to the third and fourth century CE, was discovered while reinforcing the foundation of the “scuderie nuove”, or new stables, located on the southwest corner of the Villa Torlonia estate.

Wartime gardening for food at the Villa Torlonia
Image Credit: MiBACT
In 1925 the son of Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia allocated his family's home as the official residence of Benito Mussolini, who was made to pay 1 lire per year in symbolic rent. Mussolini and Prince Alessandro Torlonia then started construction, never completed, of a fortified, airtight bunker underneath the palace residence designed to resist both aerial bombardment and chemical welfare.  Part of the villa's considerable neglect, is due in no small part to the city's attempt, at least apathetically, to ignore the villa's distasteful Fascist legacy. 

But going back to 1983, when the theft occurred. This is not the first repatriation of an object traced to the theft 33 years ago.   

Image Credit: Richard Drew / AP

A first century CE marble head, severed from the body of an ancient statue of Dionysus, was consigned for auction at Christie's in New York for USD $25,000 in September 2002.  Likely removed because it was lighter to carry and easier to sell, the statue was being stored in the former old stables at Villa Torlonia.  

To rub salt in an already overlooked wound, the body that was once attached to this head, also went missing a few weeks after the November 1983 theft.  Both were repatriated to Italy in 2006.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
As  result of these two thefts and in part due to several earlier predations, the city's cultural heritage authorities eventually replaced all of the villa's precious statues on the villa's external grounds, with concrete and plaster replicas. 

Yesterday's restitution was announced officially in Manhattan and via the web by Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  

The case was handled by the FBI's Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit and followed up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson.

November 4, 2016

Anatomy of a Confession - How much are two stolen Van Gogh's worth to an alleged Naples drug kingpin?

In recent developments on the Van Gogh recovery in Italy case, the newspaper La Repubblica has announced that Italian prosecutors have been contacted by the office of Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding an exhibition in Naples of the two Vincent Van Gogh paintings recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in the Bay of Naples involving alleged-drug kingpin Raffaele Imperiale.  


At present, both paintings are being held under high security as evidence in the criminal case against 14 indicted defendants, 12 in custody and two with outstanding extradition warrants. How long the paintings will remain in Italy while the lengthy court case proceeds remains unclear. 


Since ARCA reported on the initial stages of the Van Gogh paintings recovery, witness testimony and written statements have now been made public which shed more light onto what law enforcement officers and prosecutors know about this cocaine syndicate's "acquisition" of the stolen Van Gogh artworks. 

One time partner and indicted associate Mario Cerrone informed Italian authorities that Raffaele Imperiale purchased the paintings with illicit proceeds from the Amato-Pagano clan's coffers. The Amato-Pagano clan, is a organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro clan. This organized crime group is known to have supplied the Bay of Naples area with a steady stream of cocaine distributed by dealers working with the Camorra crime syndicate.

In testimony given as state's evidence, Cerrone indicated that Imperiale purchased the two stolen Van Gogh paintings shortly after the time of their theft in the Netherlands, sometime between the Autumn of 2002 and the first months of 2003. Considering the purchases as investment, Imperiale probably believed he could launder clan funds buying the paintings, then resell the Van Goghs for more than his initial purchase price once the case had grown cold.  Cerrone estimated that the Amato-Pagano clan accumulated USD $15 million annually in illegal crime proceeds meaning that the paintings were a significant investment. 

As most of ARCA's regular blog readers understand, selling stolen masterpieces on the licit art market is virtually impossible. From this we can hypothesize that Imperiale may have held onto the paintings following the arrest of the two thieves in the Netherlands, while planning how to use the artworks as a bargaining chip in replacement for illicit revenue.  

Given the artworks inestimable value, the paintings could have been used as collateral for the purchase of drugs, weapons, counterfeit goods or other clan-needed commodities, or for reducing the amount of liquid capital the clan would need to transfer during any given transaction making them a good substitute for reducing the clans exposure and risk.  As a final alternative, the paintings represented a bargaining tool with prosecutors for if and when members of the clan who knew about them, were arrested. 

Ironically, Raffaele Imperiale himself has now added more information to the puzzle by writing a six page written statement/confession/memoir which he sent from Dubai to the Naples prosecutors, Vincenza Marra, Stefania Castaldi and Maurizio De Marco, who along with the deputy prosecutor Filippo Beatrice and the prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone coordinated the investigations conducted by law enforcement.  In his statement, the unrepentant Imperiale informed prosecutors that he has selected two lawyers to represent him, Maurizio Frizzi and Giovanni Ricco. Both Genovese attorneys have relationships with the Amato-Pagano clan.

In addition to naming his lawyers, and perhaps in consideration of lighter sentencing if convicted, Imperiale's statement went on to outline various aspects of his organization's illicit operation.  A direct quote from the clan leader's autobiographical confession, in which he implicates himself in organized crime and drug trafficking, is translated here:







Left - Raffaele Amato 
Top Right- Paolo de Lauro 
Middle Right - Mario Cerrone 
Bottom Right - Cesare Pagano



Imperiale went on to say that he had decided to collaborate with justice by giving his seized "treasure" to the state.  Some of the seized property include thirteen terraced villas in Terracina as well as twelve villas in Giugliano, five of which are ironically, subleased out to NATO under a shell corporation.  In addition to the real estate Imperial also plans to leave the Italian state a fleet of expensive cars  "to be allocated to law enforcement agencies for the fight against organized crime."

When speaking in relation to the stolen Van Gogh paintings, Imperiale indicated that he had purchased (without explaining from whom) "some goods", not simply the two Van Gogh paintings, paying five installments of one million euros each for a total of €10 million for both paintings.   

Sketch of Raffaele Imperiale in Dubai
Imperiale is currently still a fugitive, believed to be living in an undisclosed location in Dubai.  To date, the United Arab has responded negatively to requests for extradition, citing repeated technicalities in paperwork emanating from the Italian court system.

By: Lynda Albertson