August 30, 2015

Breaking - Islamic State has Destroyed a Part of the Ancient Temple of Bel in Syria's Palmyra

Just one day after UN training and research agency UNITAR had confirmed via satellite images that Palmyra's Baalshamin Temple was destroyed by Islamic State militants, ARCA has received word from multiple direct and indirect sources that The Temple of Bel has also been targeted.  The temple is aligned along the eastern end of the Great Colonnade at Palmyra and its epigraphic remains attest to the temple's dedication in 32 C.E.  After that, it underwent changes through the course of both the first and second centuries.

Temple of Bel - North Adyton Ceiling, North Adyton and South Adyton 
The Temple of Bel's cella are unique.  Two inner sanctuaries, the north and south adytons ((a restricted area within the cella of a Greek or Roman temple) are dedicated as the shrines of Bel and other local deities. Both the North and the South chambers had monolithic ceilings. The Northern chamber’s ceiling highlighted seven planets surrounded by twelve zodiac carvings as well as a camel procession, a veiled women, and what is believed to be Makkabel, the god of fertility.  This imagery may have made the temple a target for destruction under Daesh idiology.

The Islamic State took control of the historic site of Ancient Palmyra on the May 21, 2015.  The extent of the damage to the Roman-era structure is still being investigated.  ARCA will continually update this page as news reports adding more information come in and can be corroborated.

Update August 31, 2015 09:38 GMT+1 A report by Business Insider stated that Mohamed Hassan al-Homsi, an activist from Tadmor who uses a pseudonym, had indicated that the group has used explosives to destroy the inner part of the temple.  Al-Homsi is reported to have said

"They laid the explosives today, using booby-trapped boxes and barrels that were already prepared by IS”

The report also stated that Maumoon Abdul-Karim, the Director-General of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) was reached by phone in Damascus, but that he could not yet confirm the destruction.  Professor Abdul-Karim said

"Rumours about these ruins are always coming out so we have to be careful about news like this."

Update August 31, 2015 03:38 GMT+1 Report via the Washington Post states that a contact in Hom’s outside Islamic State territory, using the pseudonym, Khaled al-Homsi, collaborates reports that the Temple of Bel was blown up Sunday afternoon.

Update August 31, 2015 00:36 GMT+1 An Al Jazeera reporter in the Syrian city of Homs was told that ISIL on Sunday detonated more than 30 tonnes of explosives.  Note: 30 tones would be a significant amount of explosives. If this is correct, the size and sound of the explosion would likely have resembled something similar to what is seen in this video. 

Update August 30, 2015 23:15 GMT+1 AP and CBS and news reported that a resident, possibly from Tadmor and going by the name "Nasser al-Thaer" reported that a substantial blast went off at 1:45 pm Sunday afternoon. This contact also reported "it is total destruction" and that "the bricks and the columns are on the ground."   This witness may be the same person who spoke with AP reporters who confirmed the destruction of Palmyra's Baalshamin Temple Destruction and who previously reported to Syria Deeply on July 21, 2015 that bombs had been planted in the historic temples of Bel and Baal Shamin. 

Update August 30, 2015 22:10 GMT +1 The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has also received word that the temple was targeted but has no further information on the extent of the damage.


Image Credit: Khan Academy

August 28, 2015

UN Training and Research Agency UNITAR Visually Confirms Palmyra's Baalshamin Temple Destruction

By Lynda Albertson
UN training and research agency UNITAR has confirmed satellite images taken on August 25 2015 visually confirms the destruction of Palmyra's Baalshamin Temple by Islamic State militants. 

Comparing images of the ancient city of Palmyra taken on May 22, 2015 by Pléiades Earth-observation system managed by Airbus Defence and Space with a later image taken on or around August 25, 2015 UNITAR has issued a statement saying:  

"We confirm the destruction of the main building, while surrounding columns seem to be less affected."

The destruction of the temple was reported to have happened last Sunday, August 23, 2015 shortly after 4:00 pm shortly after the Islamic State published photos indicating they had beheaded Khaled Mohamad al-Asaad, the retired head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Earlier this week the Islamic State published images showing various containers, containers, presumably containing explosives, placed around and inside the temple as well as an image of what appeared to be a large explosion at the time of the temple’s detonation. 

Comparing site map images of Palmyra by Ross Burns, an author of two works on the archaeology and history of Syria, with the newly released Pléiades image reviewed by UNITAR, one can see that at the time the images were taken the Temple of Nabû had apparently not been subject to intentional destruction.   Nabû’s temple is located to left of the colonnaded street adjacent to the monumental arch of Septimius Severus. Nabû is believed to have been a Mesopotamian god of wisdom and oracles.  The trapezoid-shapped temple dates from the last quarter of the 1st century CE through to the 3rd century.







Doubts Emerge Over Authenticity of Painting Damaged by 12-Year-Old Boy in Taiwan.

In the last days, various news agencies have begun reporting that doubts have emerged over the authenticity of an Italian painting which made international headlines after a soda can carrying twelve year old accidentally punched a hole through it.

On August 23, 2015 the boy, on tour with his mother at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park, tripped near “Flowers” (“Fiori” in Italian) — a 17th-century oil panting by the Italian artist Paolo Porpora and put his hand out to stop his fall.  The result, captured in its horrific entirety on CCTV footage, shows the child stumbling over the rope barrier separating visitors from the 17th-century oil painting.  The result; a fist-sized hole, in a painting that has been hyphed by the media as being worth up to $1.5 million USD.  

Damage to Paolo Porpora painting "Fiori"
While conservators and those in the museum security field have lamented the damage and questioned why those organising the exhibition chose to place a dais and stanchions in front of that painting, or why the child was allowed in the gallery with a beverage in the first place, some in the media has begun to express doubts about the authenticity of an Italian painting. 

Organisers of the exhibition have stated that the painting, part of a collection of 55 artworks in Taipei, was the only Paolo Porpora work that is known to have been signed and that the artwork was painted in the 1660s.  The Italian artist lived and painted from 1617 until 1673.

Imageof "Nuzzi" painting
http://www.dellarocca.net/catalogo.php?s=331&e=360&Aid=30

Speaking to reporters from Want China Times at the exhibition venue at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Andrea Rossi, the curator of the exhibition, said that the damaged painting by Paolo Porpora had been incorrectly attributed to Mario Nuzzi by the auction house in 2012.  This incorrect attribution could be the reason for the differences in valuation though it is not unusual for the media to write eye-popping estimates of an artworks worth when it goes missing or is damaged.  Figures seem to appeal to readers more than the words "priceless" or "invaluable".  What is stranger is that the auction house would have misattributed a signed painting as the works of another. as the names "Nuzzi" and "Porpora" are not remotely similar. 

Regardless of its actual attribution or the painting's value, the hole in the canvas is being treated by Leo Tsai (蔡舜任), one of Taiwan's top painting conservators.  For the past years Leo Tsai has been working to restore door god paintings at Taiwan’s temples.   To see a short video of the conservator and some of the work he is doing please take a look at the heritage preservation group's Facebook page, Tiawan Temples

August 27, 2015

The Demise of the Petrified Mermaid of Chalkidiki

By Angelina Giovani, ARCA 2014 Alumna

Don’t blame the mermaid.

In some places of the world, art is always welcome. Greece used to be one of those places. We must still want to think it is, but between news outlets reporting that illicit antiquities are being sold by the hundreds every day and local artists being ‘fined’ for creating public art, makes it pretty impossible to argue for that statement.

Greek artists, Dionysus Karipidis, created his reclining mermaid in 1997 long rocky coastline on the east side of Sithonia, by orange beach in Chalkidiki. The sculpture, carved into the shoreline, made the specific beach and the area surrounding it very popular.  Since its creation it has enjoyed the love and attention of the locals as well as visitors who sometimes travelled to there mainly to see the beautiful sandstone mermaid.

But unfortunately, the people visiting next time, won’t be able to enjoy the same pleasure, as the artist was fined by the tourist police for the “destruction of the natural landscape” for his rendering of the natural stone and who in frustration has destroyed it. 

The reclining mermaid was 6.6 meters long and took Karipidis over three months to carve. The artist used the rocks already existing along the shoreline, but the government claims that in doing so he has harmed the natural habitat and has therefore fined the artist 533.61 euros. After several protest letters and refusing to pay the fine, the artist stripped naked, since this is a nudist beach, and destroyed the the mermaid little by little, until there was no longer trace of it.

Photo Credit: Video Capture Antenna News, Greece
There’s a competition in this story about which could potentially be the worst part? The fact that a beautiful piece of sculpture in the sea is considered ‘dangerous’? The fact that the artist is cornered and almost forced to destroy his work? That fact that paying the fine once, doesn’t necessarily mean you never have to pay it again? What about the amount? To some 533 euros might seem like a pretty insignificant amount to pay when there are works navigating the art market every day that reach stratospheric prices in the thousands and even millions of dollars. 

Personally, I doubt this particular case had to do with the fine. It was a matter of principle and of common sense. Allowing a piece of art as non invasive and encompassed in nature as this one live would have ‘harmed’ the natural habitat much less than its absence will harm the local people and the visitors.

Now we are left with an heart broken artist, heart broken people and the government is 500 euros short.  How will we ever survive that?

August 25, 2015

Further Information Dating Destruction of the Temple of Baal Shamin

News sources reported earlier this week via Maamoun Abdul Karim, of Syria's DGAM that the Islamic State militants recently destroyed the Temple of Baal Shamin (Arabic - تدمر – معبد بعلشمين ) . located in the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city of Palmyra and to the north of the city's acropolis.  

View of the Temple of Baal Shamin, taken from Hotel Zenobia 
Further news from the AP today reported that the bombing likely took place Sunday, August 23, 2015 shortly after 4pm. 


A witness, using the name Nasser al-Thaer, spoke with journalists affiliated with the AP saying
I went to see it, not from very close because IS (militants) were there and because I was worried for myself and afraid they will ask me what are you doing here. So I saw it from a distance. 
A 25-year-old activist, also going by the name Nasser al-Thaer, had previous spoken with the organization Syria Deeply reporting on conditions inside Tadmur,  the modern city situated about 500 metres (1⁄3 mi) northeast of the ancient historical site of Palmyra.

An Islamic State operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity with journalists from the AP, confirmed that the organisation would be issuing its own statement soon.

The United Nations Scien­tific and Cultural body (UNESCOn) has stated that the temple's destruction was “an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity”.  The head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova has also called the heinous act a “war crime”.

At the time of this reporting, five photos of the destruction of the temple have recently been released by by Islamic militants and distributed on social media.  The images show explosives set at the historic site, a mushroom cloud image freeze-framing the explosion and the resulting rubble.

Out of respect for the people of Syria, the residents of Tadmur and those that have lost their lives in the protection of Syria's cultural heritage, ARCA will not be publishing ISIL, ISIS, Islamic State, Daesh, Daish heritage "snuff" videos of the temple's destruction.







To not spread further




August 24, 2015

Temple of Baal Shamin, Palmyra Destroyed

Maamoun Abdul Karim, of Syria's DGAM says Islamic State militants have destroyed the Temple of Baal Shamin (Arabic - تدمر – معبد بعلشمين ) located in the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city of Palmyra and to the north of the city's acropolis. The temple was located 500 metres from Palmyra’s amphitheatre, where Islamic State militants killed 20 Syrian soldiers shortly after overtaking the historical site and the modern city of Tadmor in May 2015. 
Coordinates: 34°33’12.00″N / 38°16’12.00″E

Portions of the temple complex dated to 17 CE though it went through numerous phases of construction in subsequent centuries. Based on inscriptions, the inner temple, or cella was thought to have been dated to 131 CE, immediately after the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the city one year earlier. 

Top of hill is Qalaat Shirkuh to right of Temple of Baal Shamin
Activists reporting from the occupied zone have said that militants used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple. The blast is also believed to have been powerful enough to have also damaged some of the Roman columns surrounding the temple site.  

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of sources on the ground, said explosives were laid at the site of the Roman ruins at the town, in late June 2015.   The exact date of the temple's destruction remains unclear. 

The Temple of Baalshamin was one of two major temples located at with the confines of the Palmyra archaeological site (along with other lessor temples). No news yet on the status of the Temple of Bel, located at the far end of Palmyra's Grand Colonnade in the southeastern end of the city.  This second temple is thought to have been converted in the 5th century CE into a church and in the 12th century into a citadel by the arabs. 

Temple of Bel and S.E. Portion of Palmyra's Grand Colonnade

As the Islamic State continues its war against culture it would be wise to remember this quote:
The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history. -- George Orwell, 1984

August 22, 2015

Cultural Terrorism in Moscow: The Enemies of Classical Art in Russia and their Protectors

Article reprinted in its entirety with the consent of the author, Alexander Baunov, senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center.  The original link to this article can be found here. 

On August 16 a group of ultra-conservative activists vandalized an art exhibition in Manege Square next to the Kremlin in Moscow. Shouting that the exhibition was offensive to Christianity, they smashed sculptures and ripped canvases by well-known Russian artists Vadim Sidur and Megasoma Mars.

What happened at Manege Square has been described as "disorderly conduct" and it may be prosecuted as such if the case comes to trial. But it is more appropriate to call it a terrorist attack by religious extremists, like the acts of cultural destruction carried out by ISIS in Palmyra, Nineveh or Mosul.
Alexander Baunov is a senior
associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center
 and editor in chief of
Carnegie.ru. Twitter: @BAUNOV
In Moscow, at first glance, the target of the wrath of the zealots was even more of a surprise than their actual behavior: they attacked classical Russian rather than modern art. Thirty years after his death, Vadim Sidur has become a classic, exhibited all over the world. The gallery at the Manege is a state museum. This seems to be have been part of the attackers' plan: a mainstream gallery in the center of the capital was an effective forum to air an extremist statement, demanding the government change its policies on culture.

The Russian government condemned the Manege vigilantes--after a brief pause. Prominent parliamentarian Konstantin Kosachev called the attack "a disgusting story." But as with the murder of liberal politician Boris Nemtsov in February, the attack on the art exhibition presents the government with a dilemma. When Nemtsov was killed, the government wavered between blaming enemies of the state like the dead man himself saying, “we are sorry for the loss, but he reaped what he sowed,” and condemning the murder and risking alienating its most fanatical supporters.

Russia's radical conservatives are becoming more brazen. There are attempts to censor Pushkin and calls to ban Tolstoy from the school curriculum because he was excommunicated, cover up John the Baptist or St. Sebastian below the waist (the Pushkin Museum beware!). 

Paradoxically, attacking the Vadim Sidur exhibition in Moscow under religious slogans, the believers of today attacked an exhibition of religious art that had great meaning for their co-religionists just one or two generations ago.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when Christianity was persecuted in the Soviet Union, Sidur depicted Christian themes and scenes from the Gospels, such as "The Deposition from the Cross." Sidur's Christian contemporaries rejoiced in the fact that a modern artist was not turning out effigies of Lenin but was making modern Christian art.

Yet today's Orthodox Church reacted to the attack on Sidur in an extraordinary fashion. Vakhtang Kipshidze, spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchy, alleged -- entirely implausibly -- that Sidur's work was done on the orders of the Soviet government of the time. Another high-ranking Church official, Vsevolod Chaplin, condemned the attack but simultaneously said that Russian society had a problem with "the desecration of objects and symbols revered by the faithful." He then added, "Incidentally, it may have been no accident that some of these works were not allowed on public display during the Soviet era.”

Not only did a sculptor who could not be exhibited at the time because of his “pacifism”, “mysticism”, and religious imagery, incur the wrath of today's religious fundamentalists. Official Church spokesman of today referred back to Soviet-era practices when they discussed how Christian art should be treated.

An attack on an art exhibition is an attack on modernity, but the religious extremism on display both in Moscow and in the Middle East is, paradoxically, also an extreme form of modernism. Its perpetrators are not interested in antiquity but what can be termed "archaization," an artificial process of reconstructing the past anew to suit their image of the present.

It is not just extremists who feel this urge. Russians vaguely remember that President Barack Obama made a speech (it was last fall at the UN Generally Assembly), listing Russia as a global threat alongside ISIS. Many Russians joked that they were insulted to lose the "Most Terrible" status to the Ebola virus. We could not understand how Americans could think that we were worse than the sadists of ISIS. And yet we made it to the list of global threats for expressing sentiments similar to theirs -- something confirmed by the Manege attack.

Like many Muslims, many Russians are dissatisfied with their place in the modern world. It has not worked out for us in the present, so we seek sustenance in contradictory personalities and episodes from different historical periods. We both revere tsarist officers and take offense at the toppling of Lenin statues. We flaunt our religiosity and wax enthusiastic about the Soviet Union. Russian patriots feel good in the past, alongside Yury Gagarin, the Great Victory of 1945 and the empire stretching from Alaska to Warsaw -- and uncomfortable in the present.

Many of the world's Muslims harbor similar sentiments, harking back wistfully to the era of the Caliphate and feeling uneasy in the modern world. Religious fundamentalists, feeling insulted and threatened, conclude: “You ignored us and now you will shake in terror!” They try to compensate for their loss through destruction -- and end up killing their own culture and citizens. 

Unfortunately, the Russian state is playing the same game of artificial conservatism, of "It was better in the past than in the present." It tells people to accept the concepts of the Russian World (Russky Mir) or Novorossiya as something primordial, even though no one had even heard of them a year ago. Russians are told: accept what we concocted for you a year before and share this new identity, this cocktail of Orthodox Christianity, homophobia, hatred for the West, otherwise, you are bad Russians. It is as though the great tradition of Russian Europeans never existed, there were no Peter the Great, Pushkin, Kandinsky or celebrated Russian agnostics and atheists. 

The Russian authorities have cautiously condemned the pogrom at the Manege, but have not demonstrated that they are seriously committed to stopping it happen again. And we can understand why. As long as the state itself remains a force of archaism discontented with modernity, it will have a hard time stopping those who destroy statues or shred canvasses. The actions of the vandals, however extreme, reflect sentiments that are at the core of the current Russian ideology.


August 21, 2015

Two Syrians Detained in Istanbul’s Esenyurt District for Smuggling Ottoman-era “Sikke” Coins

By Lynda Albertson

Antiquities trafficking from source countries to collector markets requires a global network of routes and facilitation by domestic and international criminal groups and, or middle men. Although the various trajectories are always evolving, there are certain well-established trafficking routes regularly used for the purpose of transporting illicit goods, be they drugs, precursor chemicals, illicit arms, humans or portable antiquities.

Some trafficking routes are chosen out of geographic necessity, while others are selected when smugglers associate an alternate route with a lower risk of discovery, higher profit margin or simply because logistics, such as fuel supplies, transport or available couriers, make one transport route or trafficker more appealing than another. 

Turkey has long been a viable trade corridor for heroin as well as other illegal merchandise.  As a stop along what is known as the Balkan Route the country's strategic geographical location has helped to develop it into a major staging area and transportation conduit used by drug traffickers smuggling heroin destined for European markets, with the largest percentage flowing into Germany and the Netherlands. 
April 27, 2015 Heroin Seizure 


But does Turkey serve as a trade route for illicit antiquities?

This week Turkish authorities announced that police had detained two Syrian antiquities smugglers also in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district and confiscated 500 historic "sikke" dating back to the Tanzimat period (1839–1876) of the Ottoman Empire.  Along with the coins police seized ammunition, a firearm, and a substantial amount of cash in three separate currencies:
August 2015 Coin Hoard Seizure

€119,000 (Euros)
₺134,500 (Turkish lira)
$4,250 (US Dollars)

Is the antiquities trade always tied to the illicit drug trade? 

Certainly not.  However one could conclude that underworld figures willing to ply their trade with one black market item (heroin) might be convinced to transport/fence other lucrative goods (coins) available on the illicit market if and when opportunity knocks and they are presented with objects for which there are likely to be buyers.  

Is the antiquities trade tied to one specific district? 

Again certainly not.  Nor should any parallel be drawn by any of our readers connecting these two isolated events in one distinct of Istanbul.

The lack of solid statistical reporting in the field of heritage-related crimes and the clandestine nature of illicit trafficking in general make drawing conclusions as to how often one type of illicit trafficking overlaps with another impossible to ascertain.  What is important however is that we actively recognize that fluid network structures, rather than more formal hierarchies, coupled with porous borders and geographical proximity to destabilized source countries located in the vicinity of established trafficking corridors where transnational criminal networks are already active could be leveraged as a means to traffic movable heritage.   It should also be understood that the average participant may not be a career criminal, but a regular citizen attempting to exploit an opportunity to supplement their income as a single link in a complex chain. 









August 20, 2015

Rodin Bust Stolen from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen

By Lynda Albertson

On July 16, 2015 two men posing as tourists brazenly walked in to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen and stole a bronze bust  from the Dahlerup Wing during broad daylight. Law enforcement authorities, announcing the theft today, have only today released details on the theft to the public, which at first blush, seems to indicate that the two suspects worked in a coordinated fashion.

Police surveillance footage recorded two men, approximately 30 to 40 years of age and of average build, between 170-175cm tall, entering and exiting the gallery where the artwork was on display, leaving the premises with the bust concealed first in a plastic bag and then inside a second bag, before calmly strolling out of the museum. The theft took just twelve minutes to execute and went undetected by not only patrons but also the museum’s security personnel.

Copenhagen daily Politiken spoke with inspector Ove Randrup of Copenhagen police's robbery and theft unit who advised them that surveillance camera footage shows that the men had visited the museum one week earlier, disconnecting the bust's alarm and unfastening the sculpture from its base.

The stolen artwork, ‘The Man with the Broken Nose’ was created by François Auguste René Rodin and is one of several artworks created by the artist depicting this subject. Estimates of the value of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum bust have been quoted at two million krone ($300,000) by Danish news agencies. 

It is believed that Rodin's subject for the original bust was an elderly workman named “Bibi” from the Saint-Marcel district of Paris. In creating the original clay sculpture, from which the Danish copy was modelled, Rodin chose to emphasize certain features – the broken nose, the style of the beard, and the subject's deep facial lines.  Some believe his attempt was created as a parallel between this workman’s chiseled and work-weary face and Michelangelo’s during his later years.

The prototype for the stolen bust was created in clay early in Rodin’s career, between 1862 and 1863, while the sculptor worked as an apprentice to more conventional sculptors. Working on the original piece for more than a year he referred to the work as "the first good piece of modelling I ever did."

A marble example of the clay original can be found at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

Due to its popularity, Rodin made many casts of “The Man with the Broken Nose. The version  at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum has been in the Danish collection for 95 years.

As many as 15 versions of this sculpture were on display together at a previous exhibition at the Fogg Museum at Harvard, many of which are currently held in private collections.  A video, showing a close-up of the stolen bronze in situ in the Rodin Gallery of the the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum is attached below and can be seen in high resolution at the 3.24 minute mark.   


Over the years works by Auguste Rodin have been popular with all manner of art thieves. The bronze sculpture The Burghers of Calais was found abandoned on a mountainside by its Nazi caretakers en route to Baden.  In  1991 ’Young Girl With Serpent' was stolen from a Beverly Hills couple and was recovered earlier this year.  In 2003 the work "The Hand of God" disappeared from the exhibition hall at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and in 2011 'Naked Balzac with Folded Arms' was stolen from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem during extensive renovations.

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was founded by the brewer Carl Jacobsen (1842-1914) and is one of Copenhagen’s most prominent art museums. It was named after Jacobson’s brewery with the addition of "Glyptotek", meaning collection of sculpture. The museum has a comprehensive collection of antique sculpture from the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, as well as works by Rodin, Degas and other French 19th Century artists. The museum has 35 works by Rodin, in bronze, marble and plaster.

The Danish Museum also holds the largest Etruscan collection outside Italy including antiquities clearly looted in origin including an Etruscan calesse, or two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, excavated near Fara in Sabina, just north of Rome. At the core of the dispute between Italy and the Denmark museum are Etruscan and Greco-Roman objects Italian authorities say were purchased from Bob Hecht and Giacomo Medici.

August 6, 2015

Ames Stradivarius owned by Roman Totenberg Recovered 35 years after theft


by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The New York Times reported August 6 (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/roman-totenbergs-stolen-stradivarius-is-found-after-35-years.html) that a Stradivarius violin stolen back in 1980 was recovered in June this year, and has been returned to the family of the original owner.

The Ames Stradivarius recovered by the F.B.I. in June.
(Credit Federal Bureau of Investigation, via Associated Press)


The ‘Ames Stradivarius’ was created by the legendary Italian violin-maker Antonio  Stradivarius in 1734. By 1980 it had been owned and played by Roman Totenberg, a well-known violin player and teacher, and director of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., for nearly 40 years.  At the time of the theft, which happened during a reception following a concert, the violin was said to be valued at $250,000.

Saratoga Herald-Tribune, Friday May 16, 1980, page 5-A.
Michael Cooper reported in The NYT that the violin re-appeared earlier this year after an unnamed woman, who recounted that she had inherited the violin from her late ex-husband, sought advice from an appraiser. The appraiser immediately recognised both that it was a genuine Stradivarius, and that it was the stolen Ames Stradivarius.  The appraiser contacted the FBI’s Art Theft team, who immediately verified the identity of the instrument and took possession of it.

As noted in The NYT, it seems that the now deceased ex-husband was suspected of the theft by Mr Totenberg (who died in 2012) right from the start:
Ms. Totenberg [Roman Totenberg’s daughter] said that the woman had inherited the violin from the man Ms. Totenberg’s father had suspected all along of stealing the instrument. The man had been seen in the vicinity of his office at Longy near the time of the theft, and a woman once visited Mr. Totenberg and told him that she believed that the man had stolen his violin. But to the family’s frustration, investigators at the time apparently did not believe that the tip was sufficient for them to obtain a search warrant.
The family had received an insurance pay-out at the time of the theft. That has now been repaid, and the instrument will be restored and sold:
“[The family are] going to make sure that it’s in the hands of another great artist who will play it in concert halls all over the world,” she said. “All of us feel very strongly that the voice has been stilled for too long.”