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June 1st, 2013

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Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Another European Museum Hit by Thieves

http://art-crime.blogspot.nl/2013/04/theft-at-villa-giulia-rome-another.html?m=1

April 5, 2013

Catherine Schofield Sezgin

by Lynda Albertson, CEO, Association of Research into Crimes against Art
ROME – In the last thirteen months several museums in Europe have been hit with dramatic thefts.
In February 2012, two men stormed the Archeological Museum of Olympia in the early morning and tied up a female guard. Wielding hammers, the robbers proceeded to smash five reinforced glass display cases, stuffing 68 pottery and bronze artifacts into their bags before making a hasty escape. 
In a less violent robbery, thieves walked into the Kunsthal in Rotterdam at 3 am on October 16, 2012 and stole seven paintings from the Triton Foundation, a private foundation of the family of the late Willem Cordia. Inside the museum for less than two minutes, the thieves’ cherry-picked valuable art works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud, packing them into rucksacks before exiting the same way they came in. 
In January goal-oriented burglars struck an art museum in Bergen, Norway for the second time in less than three years. Using high-beam headlights and crowbars, the two thieves smashed display cases and stole 23 rare Chinese artifacts in just over ninety seconds.
This past weekend, over the Easter holidays, Rome’s Villa Giulia joined the list. 
Arriving around midnight, the thieves announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade. This effectively occupied the attention of the night watchmen and bought the thieves precious seconds needed to climb a garden wall and break into the museum.  It also gave them with a thick cover to obscure their movements on the museum’s close-circuit cameras. 
While the guards investigated the smoke and notified the police of the irregularity the criminals made their way through the museum.  Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms that house the objects that make up the vast 6000- piece Castellani collection.
Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of the four double collection display cabinets, setting off the museum’s alarm and grabbing an as yet, unnamed number of jewelry pieces before making their escape unseen.  If their selection was random or purposeful we do not know.  What is being reported is that the shattered display cases housed 19th century Castellani jewelry reproductions based on Etruscan design, while the collection cases facing and alongside those hit contain original Etruscan pieces. 
Anyone familiar with ancient jewelry making techniques knows that the loss of these antique reproductions is likely to be quite significant. In December of 2006 Sotheby’s sold a Castellani Egyptian-revival gold, scarab and micromosaic necklace with matching brooch to a private collector for $475,200. Nine other Castellani pieces sold in that same sale for six figures each. 

To create his Etruscan replicas, Alessandro Castellani studied original Etruscan artifacts in great detail to try to unravel their method of fabrication. Experimenting with various granulation techniques, he hand-applying minute gold grain onto high-karat gold surfaces producing labor intensive and intricate jewelry pieces that were as exquisite as their ancient counterparts.
The finest examples of jewelry in this style were produced between the eighth and second centuries, B.C.E. Even with modern tools and knowledge, few goldsmiths today have sufficient skill to compete with either the Castellani jewelers or the original Etruscan masters of the craft.  The jewelry pieces in the Villa Giulia collection were created in a time when human hands were more abundant that the precious metals needed to produce an item and many of the collection’s signature pieces required hundreds of hours of painstaking workmanship.
As back history, Fortunato Castellani, opened his family’s jewelry business on Via del Corso in Rome in 1814 building it into a goldsmith dynasty. Alongside its founder, three generations of the Castellani family members and jewelry artisans based their reputations on creating what they called “Italian archaeological jewelry,” inspired by the precious Etruscan, Roman, Greek, and Byzantine antiquities being excavated at the time. 
Characterized by its thoughtfully worked gold, many Castellani revival pieces utilize labor-intensive micro mosaic insets, or were ornately paved with cameos or semi-precious stones.  The costliest pieces were purchased by well-heeled clientele, some of whom included Napoleon III; Prince Albert; Queen Victoria’s daughter, Empress Frederick of Prussia; Queen Maria Pia of Savoy; and Robert and Elizabeth Browning, who even wrote a poem about one of their rings.
For now, the authorities at the Villa Giulia and the Carabinieri TPC are remaining mum publically as to which 19th century pieces were taken, their value and what, if anything, the museum’s closed circuit surveillance tapes have revealed in terms of clues.
What we do know is that this not the first time that a burglar has made use of a cinema-worthy smokescreen to foil security cameras or to carry out a brazen museum theft on a holiday. 
In 1999 Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise was stolen from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England during New Year celebrations.  The bandit broke through a skylight, rappelled down a rope ladder into a gallery and blinded security cameras with a smoke bomb before making off with the £3m painting.
A smoke bomb was also detonated inside the Ukraine’s Lvov Picture Gallery in 1992 during a noon-day heist.   In this violent robbery, two bandits stole three 19th century paintings and shot two museum employees – one a manager and the other a section manager – who tried to prevent their escape.
What will become of the pieces stolen from the Villa Giulia collection is subject to speculation, as is the rationale behind most modern museum thefts.  Some here in Rome think that the recent UK and European robberies highlight that austerity measures and the recession have created a financial climate that on surface value makes museum collections appealing targets.

What happens after, when the high profile goods cannot be sold, remains to be seen.

ARCAblog: Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Another European Museum Hit by Thieves.

April 5th, 2013

Posted In: ARCA, Museum thefts

Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Another European Museum Hit by Thieves

http://art-crime.blogspot.nl/2013/04/theft-at-villa-giulia-rome-another.html

April 4, 2013

Catherine Schofield Sezgin

by Lynda Albertson, CEO, Association of Research into Crimes against Art
ROME – In the last thirteen months several museums in Europe have been hit with dramatic thefts.
In February 2012, two men stormed the Archeological Museum of Olympia in the early morning and tied up a female guard. Wielding hammers, the robbers proceeded to smash five reinforced glass display cases, stuffing 68 pottery and bronze artifacts into their bags before making a hasty escape. 
In a less violent robbery, thieves walked into the Kunsthal in Rotterdam at 3 am on October 16, 2012 and stole seven paintings from the Triton Foundation, a private foundation of the family of the late Willem Cordia. Inside the museum for less than two minutes, the thieves’ cherry-picked valuable art works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud, packing them into rucksacks before exiting the same way they came in. 
In January goal-oriented burglars struck an art museum in Bergen, Norway for the second time in less than three years. Using high-beam headlights and crowbars, the two thieves smashed display cases and stole 23 rare Chinese artifacts in just over ninety seconds.
This past weekend, over the Easter holidays, Rome’s Villa Giulia joined the list. 
Arriving around midnight, the thieves announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade. This effectively occupied the attention of the night watchmen and bought the thieves precious seconds needed to climb a garden wall and break into the museum.  It also gave them with a thick cover to obscure their movements on the museum’s close-circuit cameras. 
While the guards investigated the smoke and notified the police of the irregularity the criminals made their way through the museum.  Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms that house the objects that make up the vast 6000- piece Castellani collection.
Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of the four double collection display cabinets, setting off the museum’s alarm and grabbing an as yet, unnamed number of jewelry pieces before making their escape unseen.  If their selection was random or purposeful we do not know.  What is being reported is that the shattered display cases housed 19th century Castellani jewelry reproductions based on Etruscan design, while the collection cases facing and alongside those hit contain original Etruscan pieces. 
Anyone familiar with ancient jewelry making techniques knows that the loss of these antique reproductions is likely to be quite significant. In December of 2006 Sotheby’s sold a Castellani Egyptian-revival gold, scarab and micromosaic necklace with matching brooch to a private collector for $475,200. Nine other Castellani pieces sold in that same sale for six figures each. 

To create his Etruscan replicas, Alessandro Castellani studied original Etruscan artifacts in great detail to try to unravel their method of fabrication. Experimenting with various granulation techniques, he hand-applying minute gold grain onto high-karat gold surfaces producing labor intensive and intricate jewelry pieces that were as exquisite as their ancient counterparts.
The finest examples of jewelry in this style were produced between the eighth and second centuries, B.C.E. Even with modern tools and knowledge, few goldsmiths today have sufficient skill to compete with either the Castellani jewelers or the original Etruscan masters of the craft.  The jewelry pieces in the Villa Giulia collection were created in a time when human hands were more abundant that the precious metals needed to produce an item and many of the collection’s signature pieces required hundreds of hours of painstaking workmanship.
As back history, Fortunato Castellani, opened his family’s jewelry business on Via del Corso in Rome in 1814 building it into a goldsmith dynasty. Alongside its founder, three generations of the Castellani family members and jewelry artisans based their reputations on creating what they called “Italian archaeological jewelry,” inspired by the precious Etruscan, Roman, Greek, and Byzantine antiquities being excavated at the time. 
Characterized by its thoughtfully worked gold, many Castellani revival pieces utilize labor-intensive micro mosaic insets, or were ornately paved with cameos or semi-precious stones.  The costliest pieces were purchased by well-heeled clientele, some of whom included Napoleon III; Prince Albert; Queen Victoria’s daughter, Empress Frederick of Prussia; Queen Maria Pia of Savoy; and Robert and Elizabeth Browning, who even wrote a poem about one of their rings.
For now, the authorities at the Villa Giulia and the Carabinieri TPC are remaining mum publically as to which 19th century pieces were taken, their value and what, if anything, the museum’s closed circuit surveillance tapes have revealed in terms of clues.
What we do know is that this not the first time that a burglar has made use of a cinema-worthy smokescreen to foil security cameras or to carry out a brazen museum theft on a holiday. 
In 1999 Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise was stolen from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England during New Year celebrations.  The bandit broke through a skylight, rappelled down a rope ladder into a gallery and blinded security cameras with a smoke bomb before making off with the £3m painting.
A smoke bomb was also detonated inside the Ukraine’s Lvov Picture Gallery in 1992 during a noon-day heist.   In this violent robbery, two bandits stole three 19th century paintings and shot two museum employees – one a manager and the other a section manager – who tried to prevent their escape.
What will become of the pieces stolen from the Villa Giulia collection is subject to speculation, as is the rationale behind most modern museum thefts.  Some here in Rome think that the recent UK and European robberies highlight that austerity measures and the recession have created a financial climate that on surface value makes museum collections appealing targets.

What happens after, when the high profile goods cannot be sold, remains to be seen.

 

ARCAblog: Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Another European Museum Hit by Thieves.

April 4th, 2013

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March 21st, 2013

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Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Heist: Conferring with Ton Cremers, Dutch security consultant

http://art-crime.blogspot.nl/2012/10/kunsthal-rotterdam-art-heist-conferring_18.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+arcablog+(ARCAblog)

October 18, 2012
Ton Cremers

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

When Tuesday’s news broke about the theft of seven paintings from the Triton Foundation at the Kunsthal Rotterdam, bloggers and journalists rushed to the telephones and internet to piece together the news.  Museum Security Network‘s Ton Cremers was quiet on the internet because he was at the crime scene.
The Christian Science Monitor interviewed Mr. Cremers, former director of security for the Rijksmuseum (the website includes a video by the Associated Press that interviews Mr. Cremers outside of the Kunsthal Rotterdam):

“The size of the theft — seven paintings — is remarkable, says Ton Cremers, a consultant on museum security (though not for Kunsthal Rotterdam) who spent all day at the crime scene.  Mr. Cremers, who founded Museum Security Network, a website on “cultural property protection,” points out that the paintings were easily seen from outside through the windows — maybe too easily.  “You want works of such value in the heart of your building, in a separate space,” Cremers said.

What will this do to Kunsthal Rotterdam’s reputation? “Oh, this is not good”, said Cremers.  “This case will have a lot of international attention.”  He expects the next time Kunsthal Rotterdam is organizing an exhibition, art owners will be “very critical” toward the museum before entrusting them with their expensive works.”

Mr. Cremers told the Christian Science Monitor that recovering the art is difficult.

“For paintings, that chance is around 30 to 40 percent.  On average it takes about seven years,” he says.  But he notes that there is no guarantee of recovery, pointing to two works by Vincent van Gogh that were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in December 2002.  Two thieves were sentenced for that crime in 2005, but the stolen paintings have need been recovered.

In Britain’s Guardian, Mr. Cremers was quoted as saying ‘that it had become easier than ever for thieves to steal paintings from even well-protected galleries like the Kunsthal.  He said some of the fault lay with its design.’

Calling the Kunsthal a wonderful museum, it was a nightmare FROM [Ton’s emphasis here] a security point of view: “As a gallery it is a gem.  But it is an awful building to have to protect.  If you hold your face up to the window at the back you have a good view of the paintings, which makes it all too easy for thieves to plot taking them from the walls,” he told DeVolkskrant.’ (Kate Connolly, Guardian, 10/16/12, Rotterdam art thieves take valuable paintings in dawn heist

In this article on De Volksrant, Mr. Cremers says that the artworks should be placed far away from the outer shell of the building (loosely translated by Google) and that the Kunsthal Rotterdam robbery may be the biggest in the last 20 years in The Netherlands.
In this article by Anna van den Breemer in Volkskrantl.nl, Ton Cremers, from the grounds of the Kunsthal, says that once the thieves were through the door, they could easily walk throughout the entire museum with no barriers or walls around the more expensive pieces.

ARCA Blog: Mr. Cremers, could you comment on the size of the works or location within the gallery of the paintings stolen from the Triton Collection at the Kunsthal Rotterdam? Were these the most expensive paintings on display or just the easiest to locate and carry out? Had any of images of the stolen paintings been included in promotional material on the “Avante-Garde” exhibit which would have made the paintings more recognizable to thieves?

Ton Cremers: It looks as if the size of the paintings motivated the thieves to steal them, because larger, and more valuable paintings remained untouched. These really were not the paintings one would use for promotional material.

ARCA Blog: Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and Gauguin — stolen artwork by these artists often make the headlines.  Are paintings by these artists taken because the thieves just recognize the artists names from the headlines associated with expensive paintings or possibly are these works by such prestigious artists a good sale on the black market? Do you even believe that there are buyers in South America, Europe or the Middle East willing to purchase these works even knowing that they have been stolen?

Ton Cremers: Too often art thieves are considered well educated experts on art. This is by no means reality. Art theft as a specialty hardly exists. One does not need to be an expert to know names as the ones mentioned above. The most stolen artis is Picasso, most likely because of the fame of his name. The is no market for these paintings, and there are no secret buyers for stolen art. In general famous art is collected to raise one’s status, and as an investment. Both of these are not possible with stolen art. Besides: when the thieves return to the buyer of stolen art, and rob him of the looted painting. What can he do? Report this to the police? Stolen art remains for a long time in the crime scene, is used as a collateral for negotiations with insurance companies, or – the worst scenario – is destroyed because the criminals do not know what to do with it.

ARCA Blog:  If you were to compare this theft to another, what would that be? The Irish gangs who stole paintings in Britain? The Serbs who were found with the two Turners stolen from The Tate Gallery?

Ton Cremers: As long as we do not know anything about the motives of the thieves or their origin it is impossible to make any comparisons. What I can say, is that this is the largest art heis in The Netherlands since some 25 years. One really must be very cautious with speculations about organized crime, or east European gangs. When the Benvenuto Celline saliera (salt cellar) was stolen Charles Hill – former Scotland Yard – stated in the press that police were close to solving this crime, and that Serbs were involved. Later on it appeared to be a drunk local who did not prepare the burglary, and theft at all, but just climbed scaffold, broke a window, smashed a display case, and grabbed the $30 million object. This burglary, and theft took less than one minute! No preparations, no organized crime, no Serbs…just a drunk local. This too, like the Kunsthal, was an example of very poor structural security.

ARCA Blog: Some headlines have suggested that inside information must have been given to the thieves about the gallery’s security.  What kind of information would this be? Are we talking about something like the fictional account in the Swedish film “Headlong” where a man working for the security firm was an accomplice in art theft?

Ton Cremers: These are just speculations, that I really do not want to participate in.

ARCA Blog: You were at the Kunsthal Rotterdam the day the theft was discovered.  How did you find out about the theft and what role, if any, did you play in the investigation?  Are the Rotterdam Police in charge of the investigation? How many officers would be assigned and how many departments would be involved?

Ton Cremers: I found out about the crime via a journalist who called me (too) early in the morning. I was at the crime scene because several TV companies wanted to interview me at the scene. I am in no way involved in the investigations. Important to know: I was not, nor am I involved in the security of the Kunsthal. Let that be quite clear. If I would be, I would not talk to journalists, or answer your questions. At the moment 25 policemen are involved in the investigations.

ARCA Blog: In this case we’ve read that a forensic team has searched for physical evidence such as fingerprints and that police have reviewed security videotapes and asked for information from potential witnesses.  Can you tell us if any information regarding the evidence of this crime has been made public? Will police want to share this information or will the investigation be conducted quietly?  Often it seems that the only news we get from an art heist is that paintings have been taken or recovered and that someone may or may not have been arrested (with or without the paintings).  What do you think we can expect as far as news from the Kunsthal Rotterdam art heist?

Ton Cremers: The Police are very secretive in this matter. However, there some minor information was broadcasted, asking for witnesses. This far police have received some 30 tips. It is not clear if any of these tips are valuable.

ARCA Blog: What role will any international law enforcement agencies have in this investigation?

Ton Cremers: The usual role: hardly any, other than that this theft will be in the databases of Interpol, Dutch police, the carabinieri (they still have the largest database, and gave some twenty people almost full time dedicated to maintaining this database), and of course the Art Loss Register.

ARCA Blog: Were the paintings insured and did you see anyone representing the insurance company in Rotterdam after the theft? Will the insurance company be part of the investigation?

Ton Cremers: The paintings were insured, as loans always are. It goes without saying that the insurance company – I have seen a representative insurance broker – at some point will be involved. What fascinates me is that this broker accepted this risk to have it insured, for the conditions under which these paintings were, and the remainder of the show is, displayed really are below standard.

There is one more, unpopular, statement I need to make. The director of the Kunsthal stated during a press conference that the security of the Kunsthal is ‘state of the art’. A very weird statement to make after this burglary, and theft of 7 paintings valued between € 50 and 100 million (some $130,000,000). Either she still is convinced the security of her kunsthal to be ‘state of the art’, or she is just trying to escape her responsibility. I am very much convinced that this statement – no matter her motives – disqualifies her as a museum director. It is my strong conviction that she should make room for a manager who is qualified to do this job.

Ton, thank you so much for taking the time to ‘speak’ with the ARCA Blog.

ARCAblog: Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Heist: Conferring with Ton Cremers, Dutch security consultant.

October 18th, 2012

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October 10th, 2012

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September 29th, 2012

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March 16th, 2012

Posted In: ARCA, fakes and forgeries

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March 16th, 2012

Posted In: ARCA, fakes and forgeries