Stolen bull’s head to return to Lebanon

A 2,300-year-old sculpture of a bull’s head lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will return to Lebanon after it emerged the object had been stolen.

Lawyers for the American couple who lent the bull’s head to the Met said they had been faced with “incontrovertible evidence” that it was looted during Lebanon’s 1981 civil war. Lynda and William Beierwaltes bought the sculpture for over US$1 million (£760,000) in 1996 from British antiquities dealer, Robin Symes. Once a renowned antiques dealer, Symes fell from grace when he came under investigation for trading in looted Greek and Italian artefacts.

When a Met curator raised concerns over the bull’s head’s provenance, the Colorado couple argued they purchased it in good faith and filed a lawsuit to prevent the Manhattan District Attorney’s office from repatriating it to Lebanon. Assistant District Attorney, Matthew Bogdanos, presented evidence that the bull’s head was stolen from storage during the Lebanon civil war following its discovery during a state-sponsored excavation of the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon in 1967.

On Wednesday, (11 October) the Beierwaltes’ lawyer released a statement announcing the couple’s decision to drop the lawsuit. ‘The Beierwaltes believed it was in everyone’s best interest to withdraw their claim to the bull’s head and allow its repatriation to Lebanon’, the statement read.

In a statement released on the same day, Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. called on the art world to ‘acknowledge that stolen antiquities are not simply collectible commercial property, but evidence of cultural crimes committed around the world’. Vance Jr. also urged ‘galleries, auction houses, museums, and individual collectors… to conduct proper due diligence to ensure that an item has not been unlawfully acquired’.

The Beierwaltes will not face any criminal charges over the theft of the bull’s head.

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