Lot 67. A Roman marble portrait head of the Emperor Septimius Severus, Circa 194 A.D.
Slightly over-lifesized, depicted with his head turned to his right, his thick curling hair and beard with drilled detail, the beard characteristically full and long with ringlets at the chin and a thick moustache at the upper lip, his eyebrows incised above large eyes with articulated pupils gazing upward, the strong neck designed to be set into a composite statue, 16¼in (41.3cm) high, mounted
American private collection, California.
Christie’s New York, 11 December 2003, lot 232.
European private collection, acquired in the 1980s.
Estimate: £120,000-150,000 ($200,000-250,000). This lot sold for £206,500 (US$ 344,041)
UPDATED with sale results.
Bonham’s April 3, 2014 Antiquities sale in London has more than a handful of works that lack a pre-1970 provenance (I know … it’s this issue again). Among them, according to ARCA, are some found in the archives of looted works of “two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, [that were] confiscated by Italian and Greek police who have used them to identify objects looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006.”
The “pre-1970″ refers to the date of an international UNESCO convention aimed at halting the looting of antiquities. As the New York Times reported: ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ Numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries.” It’s a standard I believe should apply to private collectors as well as museums and other institutions.
UPDATE: ARCA reports one of the items they previously highlighted, lot 22 (below), has been withdrawn from the sale. According to ARCA, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis had matched this object to those in the archives of looted work sold by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina.
Lot 22. A CANOSAN POLYCHROME PAINTED LIDDED POTTERY PYXIS
A Canosan polychrome painted lidded pottery pyxis
Circa 3rd Century B.C.
The domed lid with a central mask modelled in relief surrounded with bands of painted decoration, the front of the cylindrical vessel painted in pink, red and pale blue with a band of swags, the tripod legs comprising two doves and a rectangular slab foot at the back, 9in (22.9cm) high
American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s.
Estimate: £3,000-5,000 ($5,000-8,300). This lot has been Withdrawn.
The ARCA report continued:
Peter Watson, co-author with Cecilia Todeschini of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums (Public Affairs, 2007), wrote in The Times (“Auction houses ‘handling stolen goods’“, April 2):
Christos Tsirogiannis, of the Division of Archaeology at Cambridge University, and formerly a member of the Greek Task Force that oversaw the return of smuggled objects, said that the auction houses should have realised that they were handling illegal objects. “They themselves do not release all the information they have about how these objects reach the market,” he said. “These objects have no real provenance.”
The objects are believed to be part of hauls gathered during the 1980s and 1990s by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, two notorious Italian dealers. Both men have been convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities. Medici’s archive was seized in 1995 in Geneva, and Becchina’s was seized in Basle in 2002. Between them, the men supplied thousands of illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities, many of which were dug up by mechanical digger, and sold at Sotheby’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some of them were priceless and many still had soil on them. They passed in their thousands through London salesrooms until the traffic was exposed, partly by The Times in 1997. Sotheby’s was forced to discontinue its sales in London.
Mr Tsirogiannis, who has just been awarded his PhD for a thesis on the illicit international antiquities trade, has access to two Polaroid archives of the hauls that were seized by the Italian carabinieri in Switzerland. He noticed that the two objects coming up for sale at Bonhams and Christie’s were identical to two shown in the photographs of the seized archives, in one case dirty and broken before restoration.
UPDATE: A reader has indicated that another lot has come under question, a Neo-Assyrian Black Basalt Stele.
The reader supplied a link to Heritage for Peace, which in its March 26, 2014 newsletter contains the following:
Potentially looted relief up for sale at Bonhams
• According to a recent article in Al-Akhbar (17 March 2014), a new lot at Bonhams Auction House, due to be sold on the 3rd April in London, may have been looted. The article publishes a video entitled “Stop the Theft and Sale of Antiquities in Syria”, by the Saadeh Cultural Foundation. The video is addressed to UNESCO, the Syrian Government and Bonhams. The video claims that Auction Lot 99, which is apparently from Tell Shiekh Hamad, in Haseke province, is looted, despite Bonhams claim is was excavated in the 1970s. The upper section of the stele was discovered in 1879 by Hormuzd Rassam, and is now in the British Museum. Rassam’s notes comment he was unable to fund [sic] the lower half. There is also no evidence that Layard, who also excavated the site, found it. The site was excavated by Kuhne in 1975, but his excavation records also do not mention it. Therefore, the foundation argues, it must be looted. [emphasis added].
Looting has certainly been reported at the site since at least September 2012.
To read the full article (in arabic) and see the video (arabic with English subtitles) in Al-Akhbar, click here.
Lot 177. An Egyptian bronze Horus falcon sarcophagus, Late Period, circa 664-30 B.C.
The falcon deity wearing the double crown, perched with closed wings crossing over the tail feathers, with finely incised details on the feathers and claws, standing with arched talons on a corniced hollow sarcophagus, 6¾in (17cm) high, 7in (18cm) long
French private collection, Normandy, acquired in the 1970s.
Estimate: £12,000-15,000 ($20,000-25,000). This lot failed to sell.
Lot 19. A Greek red-figure hydra, Apulia, attributed to the Baltimore Painter, circa 320-310 B.C.
Decorated with added white, ochre and crimson slip, the upper frieze depicting a wedding scene, the bride seated on a chair beneath a parasol, unveiling herself to the groom standing in front, leaning on a basin, flanked by three attendants, the lower frieze with a naiskos flanked by female figures carrying caskets and situlae, 26¼in (66.7cm) high
T.L. Collection, Berne, Switzerland.
V.L. Collection, Nyon, Switzerland, acquired in the 1990s.
Estimate: £20,000-30,000 ($33,000-50,000). This lot failed to sell.