“Art galleries, auction houses, academic institutions and collectors must be vigilant about recognizing and identifying signs of theft and trafficking”, New York lawyer, Cyrus R. Vance, said following the repatriation of several stolen artefacts from the United States to Italy last Thursday (25 May).
Looted from archaeological sites in Italy in the 1990s, the objects were smuggled overseas to the US. Six of the seven items were seized from a Manhattan gallery in April this year while the seventh object was located in another gallery in Midtown Manhattan. They include a Greek bronze from the 3rd or 4th century BC, an oil flask from 340 BC and a wine jug from 650 BC.
In a statement, Vance issued a warning to galleries and institutions at risk of dealing in stolen antiquities. “Those who neglect to establish the integrity of an artifact’s provenance implicitly condone the looting and pillaging of historic sites around the world”, he cautioned.
The return of the objects is just one of the latest instances of art recovery spearheaded by Italy’s specialist art fraud squad, Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale. As the international market for art and antiquities grows, the Carabinieri have sought to crack down on the illicit trade in stolen artefacts by enhancing collaboration with investigative networks worldwide.
Closer to home, Italian investigators have focussed their attention on the Turin area, which has been rife with art theft in recent years. On Saturday (27 May), authorities announced they had recovered works by Van Dyke, Guido Reni, Tommaso Salini and others from a villa in Turin.
The stash was uncovered after an art dealer complained of being paid €8 million (£7 million) in counterfeit money. The fraudsters had paid the dealer from a safe with a false bottom, which allowed them to substitute real currency for fake bills when it came time for payment.
Art detectives also discovered a cache of stolen artworks and antique books in a book dealer’s warehouse in Turin after receiving a tip off from a Swedish professor. The academic from Lund University had purchased a 16th century prayer book online from a student in Bologna.
Upon discovering a “Royal Library of Turin” ink stamp on one of the pages, the professor contacted officials at the Italian embassy in Sweden. It was confirmed that the manuscript had been stolen from the Royal Library in 2012. Investigators then traced the manuscript’s movement backwards from the university student to the Turin book dealer from whom he purchased it.
Do you suspect you own a stolen artefact? Our specialist art law team explains what you can do here.