Posts Tagged ‘cultural patrimony’

Italy Initiates Investigation of Illegally Exported Antiquities; American Museum Collections Implicated Again

June 7, 2010

Italy appears to be extending recovery efforts for illegally exported antiquities.  The New York Times reports that Princeton University curator Michael Padgett is the focus of a new criminal investigation in Rome.  The charges involve allegations of illegally exporting numerous looted antiquities from Italy, including portions of a calyx krater attributed to Euphronios.

A New York based antiquities dealer, Edoardo Almagià is also apparently named in the charges.

Because of Mr. Padgett and Mr. Almagià’s involvement in certain transactions involving antiquities originating from Italy, a number of high profile American museums may also be implicated in the case including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Dallas Museum of Art; and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Additional Resources:

Princeton University Museum of Art, Ancient and Islamic Art Collection

Image of Euphronios krater fragment in the Princeton collection.

Euphronios works at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Above, detail of a Euphronios work from the Louvre collection.

The Fountainheads of Beijing

March 4, 2009

In the latest public battle over cultural property, an interesting development has arisen in the auction of 2 animal head sculptures that were reputedly looted from a palace outside of Beijing in or about 1860. The two Quing Dynasty sculptures, one of a rat and the other of a rabbit, were apparently elements of a Chinese zodiac themed fountain. The objects appeared in this past week’s auction of eminent fashion designer Yves St. Laurent’s art collection in Paris. St. Laurent died in 2008 and the auction was initiated by his partner Pierre Bergé.

auction22sp   auction12





The Chinese government became aware of the intent to auction the fountainheads and requested their return to China. According to reports, Christies offered to sell the sculptures directly to China and Mr. Bergé offered to give the sculptures to China in exchange for political concessions related to the status of Tibet. Both offers were refused.

A French court determined that China has no legal claim to the objects. The Chinese government contends that the sculptures are important objects of cultural patrimony and should be returned to China. European legal sources have stated that China does not have a legal claim to the looted sculptures. France apparently did not ratify a 1995 U.N. treaty that pertains to looted cultural objects. Regardless, the treaty contains some time limitations on initiating a claim for the return of cultural property and only applies to objects acquired after the country’s ratification of the treaty.

As a protest tactic, the resulting auction produced a scenario reminiscent of last year’s auction of oil and gas rights in U.S. lands adjacent to national parks and monuments. (An environmental activist placed several winning bids in an attempt to save the land from exploitation, but without intent to pay). In the St. Laurent auction, Cai Mingchao placed a bid of $18 million on each of the fountainheads, but has since refused to pay the total of $40 million (including commissions) that is due. It is unclear as to whether Mr. Cai will face criminal or civil charges under French law. The fountainheads, meanwhile, will apparently remain in the collection of Mr. Bergé for the time being.

 Twist in Sale of Relics Has China Winking

 YSL Partner Offers China Art for Human Rights 

Paris Court Rejects China’s Saint Laurent Art Claim 

China Fails to Halt Sale of Looted Relics at Paris Auction

China Seeks to Stop Paris Sale of Bronzes 

UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (Rome, 1995)