italy

U.S. Authorities Return Antiquities Worth $19 Million to Italy, Including 27 Objects Seized From the Met


Italy has welcomed home nearly 60 looted artifacts, receiving them from U.S. authorities, who recovered around half of the objects from the holdings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Collectively worth about $19 million, the relics were returned to the Italian authorities by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in July and September 2022, and earlier this week, were exhibited at a press conference in Rome. “For us Italians,” said Vincenzo Molinese, head of the Carabinieri art squad, “the value of these artworks, which is the value of our historic and cultural identity, is incalculable.”

Among the repatriated artifacts are a white marble bust of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, which was recovered in 2020, on the eve of it heading to auction at Christie’s New York; as well as the Marble Head of Athena, a 200 B.C.E. sculpture that was filched from a temple in central Italy, and a kylix or drinking cup, which dates back to 470 B.C.E., both among the 27 objects seized from the Met last year.

Also included is a fresco, dated to 50 C.E., depicting a young Hercules battling a snake. The work, which survived the 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius, was looted by tomb raiders from a villa in the ancient town of Herculaneum and illegally run into the U.S. Italy first asked for its return in 1997.

All 60 objects had been variously smuggled into the U.S. over the past five decades by traffickers Giacomo Medici, Giovanni Franco Becchina, Pasquale Camera, and Edoardo Almagiá, notorious for employing local looters to pillage archaeological sites across Italy.

While their criminal enterprises were frequently in competition with one another, all four sold artifacts to Michael Steinhardt, the billionaire who’d amassed a hoard of plundered relics, including the Herculaneum fresco for $650,000 in 1995. Following a multiyear investigation into his collection and illicit collecting practices, Steinhardt received a lifetime ban from acquiring antiquities in 2021.

“These 58 pieces represent thousands of years of rich history, yet traffickers throughout Italy utilized looters to steal these items and to line their own pockets,” Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., Manhattan District Attorney, said in a statement following the return of the artifacts. “For far too long, they have sat in museums, homes, and galleries that had no rightful claim to their ownership.”

At the event in Rome, officials on both sides stressed the ongoing need to crack down on the illicit trafficking of antiquities.

With this latest repatriation, Italy’s culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said that Italian cultural authorities are contemplating returning the artifacts to museums located close to where they were excavated. A special exhibition of the recovered objects (Italy inaugurated a Museum of Rescued Art last year to house recovered art), he added, is also being considered.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

In a Landmark Restitution, the U.S. Returns 200 Looted Antiquities From Top Museums and Private Collections to Italy


Painted jars, marble busts, ceramic figurines, and even an ancient Roman statue reportedly sold to Kim Kardashian are part of a trove of 200 objects confiscated by U.S. authorities that have landed in Italy as part of the largest-ever repatriation agreement between the two countries. The objects were surrendered by museums and private collections across the United States.

The haul, which traveled on a commercial flight to Rome on Friday, is estimated to be worth around $10 million. “For years, prestigious museums and private collectors across the United States prominently displayed these Italian historical treasures even though their very presence in America constituted evidence of cultural heritage crimes,” the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said in a statement.

Around 160 of them are linked to a single antiquities dealer, Edoardo Almagià, a 70-year-old from Rome accused of running a 30-year smuggling operation. Due to statutes of limitations, he is unlikely to face criminal charges. But for Italy, the objects’ return is a victory in its own right.

Pithos with Ulysses, Head of a Maiden, and Baltimore Painter Krater, three of some 200 stolen artifacts the Manhattan D.A. is repatriating to Italy. Photo courtesy of the Manhattan D.A.

Pithos with Ulysses, Head of a Maiden, and Baltimore Painter Krater, three of some 200 stolen artifacts the Manhattan D.A. is repatriating to Italy. Photo courtesy of the Manhattan D.A.

“What is most important is that these very important archaeological findings come back that are part of our culture identity,” Italian police official Roberto Riccardi, who serves in a cultural heritage unit of the Carabinieri, told the New York Times.

Seven of the repatriated artifacts were from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, including a 2,500-year-old wine cup. The San Antonio Museum of Art returned five Greco-Roman jars and plates and a selection of pottery fragments, while the Cleveland Museum of Art turned over three works.

Others came from galleries and private collections in New York City and Long Island. According to federal documents, Kim Kardashian was in the process of acquiring one of the works, an ancient Roman statue, when it was detained at the U.S. border in 2016. (A spokesman for the celebrity later told Midnight Publishing Group News that Kardashian had “never seen this sculpture,” leading to speculation that her ex Kanye West was behind the scuppered purchase.)

Nearly half of the illicit objects were from the Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art at Fordham University in the Bronx. The museum opened in 2007 at the school’s Walsh Library, which is named after alumnus and donor William D. Walsh, who gifted his alma mater his collection of 260 antiquities. He later donated an additional 40 objects to the museum, which has since made modest acquisitions of its own.

Fordham has been forced to turn over a cache of about 100 Greco-Roman artifacts valued at close to $2 million, all but two of which come from Almagià. The museum’s holdings still include some 200 antiquities.

Authorities maintain that Walsh, who died in 2013, was unaware of Almagià’s illicit actions, but news coverage of the museum’s opening noted the potential for looted art.

“It’s a slightly imprudent act on the part of the university, because a lot of it is not provenanced,” Richard Hodges, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, told the New York Times at the time.

For his part, Almagià denied and attempted to minimize the allegations against him when reached by the Times. Investigations into his actions date back to at least 1996. In 2000, he was caught with stolen frescoes from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum at New York’s Kennedy Airport.

He left the U.S. in 2006 and authorities raided his Upper East Side apartment, finding six looted artifacts. An Italian court acquitted Almagià in a 2012 smuggling case, but the ruling acknowledged he had helped illegally move Italian antiquities.

The Manhattan D.A.’s office believes that other museums around the country still hold artifacts once owned by Almagià, so additional restitutions may be forthcoming.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

In Hans Op de Beeck’s New Show in Italy, Rich Narratives Unfold in Lifelike Sculptures—See Images Here


A young couple, teenagers it seems, sit on the edge of a cliff clasping hands. A man stands, shirtless, rowing a canoe that is filled with baskets of fruits and vegetables, a hen, and a dog—perhaps all of his worldly possessions. A woman dressed in a Brazilian carnival feather headdress sits on a couch in a moment of rest. In Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck’s new solo show, “The Boatman and Other Stories” at Galleria Continua, recent and never-before-seen sculptures conjure up fascinating narratives.

Mainly figurative, along with a few evocative still lifes, these sculptures feel like snippets of many lives, scenes unfolding around the world as we glimpse men, women, and children going about the simple tasks of living. 

Op de Beeck has worked for many years not just as a visual artist, but also as a theatrical director, dramaturge, and composer. His figures have the feel of specific characters, too; over the last few years, the artist has modeled these men, women, and children not as portraits, per se, but as imaginary figures whose stories he alone fully knows. 

Hans Op de Beeck, The Boatman (2020). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, The Boatman (2020). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Of The Cliff, the sculpture of two teenagers, a boy and a girl seated with hands clasped, Op de Beeck explained, “it’s a bittersweet image of the whims of young love intertwined with the marked innocence that comes from an impetuous perception of a world not yet lived, to which we are invited to return.”  

There is an awareness of death and life’s transience to these works, too. In Vanitas XL (2021) and Vanitas Table (the coral piece) (2021), these sculptural floral arrangements harken not only to the Dutch vanitas tradition but also to funeral parlors. In After Work (2021), two skeletons happily chat—this is a new and recurring motif in the artist’s work, a light-hearted way to hint at mortality.

“The Boatman and Other Stories” speaks about our growing pains, the search for identity, the difficulties, awkwardness, and silences inherent to our existence, but also about our dreams and hopes for a better future and the search for inner peace and wonder,” read a statement from the gallery. 

See more images from “The Boatman and Other Stories” below.

Hans Op de Beeck, The Cliff. Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, The Cliff. Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, Vanitas Table (the coral piece) (2021). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, Vanitas Table (the coral piece) (2021). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, Dog (2019). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, Dog (2019). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, Wunderkammer (2021). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

Hans Op de Beeck, Wunderkammer (2021). Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

 

“The Boatman and Other Stories” is on view at Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, Italy, through January 6, 2022.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

A Revelatory Exhibition Traces the Poet Dante’s Path Through Exile in Italy, and the Artworks He Likely Encountered—See Images Here


A new art exhibition in Italy takes an oblique look at the life of the poet Dante Alighieri, whose banishment from his native Florence in 1302 serves as the narrative lynchpin of the show. 

Dante, who is most famous for writing the Divine Comedy, was a Florentine government official when he was exiled in 1302 by political rivals. Forced to wander the Italian peninsula, he passed through Rome, Verona, and Bologna before finally setting in Ravenna, where he died of malaria in 1321, one year after completing his most famous work.

The exhibition at the Museo d’Arte della Città in Ravenna (“Art in Times of Exile,” through July 4) marks the 700th anniversary of his death and looks at the major artworks Dante may have seen on his travels.

Installation view. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

The show includes works by artists who were revered in Dante’s time, including Cimabue, who is represented by an important mosaic.

Works on view were borrowed from an array of institutions, including the Louvre and the Uffizi Galleries. The latter sent two works: the Stigmata di San Francesco by Maestro della Croce and the Badia Polyptych by Giotto di Bondone.

Other artists in the show include Arnolfo di Cambio, Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, and Giuliano da Rimini, all of whom were known to Dante.

“To think that our wonderful Byzantine mosaics influenced and inspired Dante in writing the last cantos of Paradise arouses great emotion and pride in us,” Ravenna’s mayor, Michele de Pascale, said in a statement.

“Prestigious loans from all over Europe are both expressions of timeless beauty and extraordinary sources for Dante’s inspiration, which informed the greatness of The Comedy and of the entire production of this supreme poet.”

See more images from the show below.

Installation view. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Venetian-Ravenna master from the late 13th-century, Madonna Enthroned with Child. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Sculptures, don. Jean-Charles Davillier. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Venetian-Ravenna master from the late 13th-century, Madonna Enthroned with Child. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Sculptures, don. Jean-Charles Davillier. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Arnolfo di Cambio's <i>Bust of Pope Boniface VIII</i>. On loan from Vatican City, Fabbrica di San Pietro in Vaticano.

Arnolfo di Cambio’s Bust of Pope Boniface VIII. On loan from Vatican City, Fabbrica di San Pietro in Vaticano.

Giotto di Bondone's Polittico di Badia (1295-1297). Courtesy Uffizi Galleries.

Giotto di Bondone’s Polittico di Badia (1295-1297). Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR - Museo d'Arte della città di Ravenna.

Installation view. Credit MAR – Museo d’Arte della città di Ravenna.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

It May Have Been Kanye West—Not Kim Kardashian—Who Bought an Ancient Roman Sculpture Allegedly Looted From Italy


Last month, the U.S. government demanded that Kim Kardashian forfeit an ancient Roman sculpture that she had been in the process of acquiring, according to papers in a civil court action. But now, it seems that perhaps the Keeping Up With the Kardashians star wasn’t behind the purchase at all.

In fact, it may have been Kardashian’s ex, Kanye West, who was behind the sale, TMZ has reported.

Citing a “source connected to the situation,” the news outlet explained that West acquired the sculpture as part of a larger purchase that included additional artworks. Kardashian, meanwhile, aparently didn’t know about the sculpture until the filing of the complaint this week.

A representative for Kardashian told Midnight Publishing Group News that the influencer had “never seen this sculpture” before. The spokesperson declined to comment further.

Representatives for West did not immediately return a request for comment.

The sculpture in question, a large draped figure titled Fragment of Myron’s Samian Athena, is believed to be a copy of an original Greek piece, and was finished around the 1st or 2nd century, during the early to mid-Roman Empire. It was seized by authorities in Los Angeles in 2016 after arriving in a 5.5-ton shipment that contained $745,000 worth of antiques, Modern furniture, and decorative objects. Kardashian was listed as the consignee and importer.

A photograph of the antique Roman statue taken by an HSI SA on or about May 11, 2016. Photo courtesy PACER.

A photograph of the antique Roman statue taken by an HSI SA on or about May 11, 2016. Photo courtesy PACER.

According to court documents, Kardashian bought the sculpture that same year from Belgian dealer Axel Vervoordt, who had previously decorated her Calabasas mansion. (An invoice mentioned in the filing shows that Vervoordt had purchased the work from Galerie Chenel in Paris in 2012.) But by that point, the piece was already on the radar of Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage, which suspected it of being an object of national import.

In 2018, an archaeologist from the culture ministry found that no export license had ever been granted for the sculpture—a requirement for the international transport of pieces of national heritage in Italy since 1909—and thus suggested that it had been “looted, smuggled, and illegally exported.”

The sculpture is named as the defendant in the complaint, which is common practice for civil forfeiture cases like this. It also means that the stakes of the case don’t extend beyond the ownership of the piece; criminal charges or other forms of punitive action are not on the table for Kardashian or anyone else named in the filing. 

The complaint calls for the sculpture to be forfeited to the U.S. government, which would in turn likely repatriate the piece to Italy. However, either Kardashian or Vervoordt now have the option to make a claim for the piece and, if they do so, the case will be litigated in court.

If that happens, there’s a good chance the U.S. government will lose, says Duncan Levin, an expert on asset forfeiture who is not connected to the Kardashian case.

“The government seems to be basing this entire case on some inconsistent statements made by the seller,” said Levin, who previously served as chief of asset forfeiture for the Manhattan district attorney’s office. “But there’s no evidence about when this piece left its original country. As a result of that, the government is going to have an extremely difficult time proving their case.”

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: