Looting Matters: Italian Prosecutor Calls for Return of Antiquities

Looting Matters: Italian Prosecutor Calls for Return of Antiquities


SWANSEA, Wales, June 4 /PRNewswire/ — David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the call by an Italian prosecutor for the return of three lots due to be auctioned in New York.

The seizure of a major photographic dossier in the Geneva Freeport continues to have an impact for those seeking to sell antiquities. Three items due to be auctioned in June 2010 appear to be close to items that feature in the Polaroid images. The objects consist of a Roman marble youth, a South Italian terracotta figure of a woman, and an Apulian drinking-cup.

A spokesperson for Christie’s stressed that the auction-house’s due diligence process did not provide any indication that the objects were “problematic”. The sale of the three lots would be proceeding.

The provenance, or more accurately the collecting histories, for the three lots in question show that they surfaced via another auction-house in 1984, 1992 and 1994. The collecting histories for these pieces prior to their appearance on the London and New York markets is unclear.

A similar link was made between a Geneva Polaroid and a Roman statue that had been due to be auctioned in London in April 2010. In that case the auction-house withdrew the lot.

In 2009 three items, a Corinthian krater, an Attic pelike and an Apulian situla, were seized from Christie’s: one just before, and two after the June sale. A spokesperson for the auction-houses noted in a statement that the transparency of the auction system had allowed the objects to be identified.

Auction-houses need to conduct rigorous due diligence searches to ensure that objects do not come onto the market as a result of illicit diggings on archaeological sites. It has been suggested that dealers adopt the internationally recognized benchmark of 1970, the date for the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

In the meantime Rome prosecutor, Paolo Ferri, has made his position clear: “We want to repatriate those objects.”

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