July 29, 2014

ARCA '14 Art Crime Conference: Jordan Arnold on "Hello Dalí: Anatomy of a Modern Day Art Theft Investigation"

Jordan Arnold, formerly with New York County
District Attorney's Office
AMELIA -- At ARCA's Art Crime Conference on June 29, Jordan Arnold, formerly head of the Financial Intelligence Unit with the New York County District Attorney’s Office, spoke about the recent art theft investigation which involved artwork by Salvatore Dalí.
In the middle of the afternoon on June 19, 2012, inside an art gallery near Central Park, a man removed a 1949 Salvador Dali watercolor from the wall, placed it in a shopping bag and disappeared into the streets of Manhattan. The ensuing international investigation—led by NYPD Major Case Squad detectives and a Manhattan DA prosecutor—provides an illustrative case study of modern investigative techniques joined with time-tested law enforcement methods to recover a stolen work of art and convict the thief. 
The lead prosecutor in The People v. Phivos Istavrioglou, Arnold presented a concise narrative of the investigation into the theft by Cartel des Don Juan Tenorio, including: determining initial investigative steps; ruling out an inside job; recovering the piece; identifying the thief (a foreign national); placing him in Manhattan that day; using social media to track him to Europe (right down to his favorite café); seizing damning digital evidence of his guilt; luring him back to New York (through an elaborate undercover sting), and; securing his confession, indictment and conviction. The presentation included an explanation of the tools, techniques and approaches utilized, and the attendant legal considerations.
Jordan Arnold is with the New York office of K2 Intelligence, an investigative and risk consulting firm. Jordan previously served as a prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, where he created and headed its Financial Intelligence Unit. Prior to that, Jordan served on the homicide chart and as lead prosecutor for the NYPD Major Case Squad. Twitter @jordarnold.

July 28, 2014

Police officer with Greece's antiquities protection department arrested in smuggling ring

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

In "Million-euro Marble Statue Seized in Greece", Sotiria Nikolouli reported for the Associated Press on Jul 24, 2014 about the arrest of a police officer from Greece's antiquities protection department "accused of being part of a smuggling ring that was trying to sell an ancient marble statue worth an estimated 1 million euros ($1.35 million)":
Greek Police said on Thursday that the 49-year-old officer was arrested with eight other suspects, following raids and searches at 11 areas in greater Athens and two others in towns in central and northern Greece. The almost intact 1,900-year-old Greco-Roman era statue of a male figure measures 65 centimeters (25.5 inches) from head-to-knee, and is being kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Police did not say whether the statue had been stolen or illegally excavated but added that a “large number” of less valuable ancient artifacts had also been seized.
In "Greek policeman, 8 others charged with smuggling antiquities" (Tengri News relaying an AFP article) the 49-year-old police officer was arrested along with a 52-year-old Athens antique dealer:
A police statement said the more than 2,000-year-old statue, which measures 65 centimetres (two feet) was the work of renowned fourth-century BC sculptor Praxiteles. Six other suspects in the smuggling ring are still on the run.
This article in a Greek newspaper (http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=618124) said the arrests were the result of a two-month investigation; five of the six people not in custody have been identified as allegedly taking part in the smuggling ring (one Albanian and 8 Greeks are involved, including the 49-year-old policeman; a 50-year-old middleman; a 52-year-old antiquities dealer with a gallery in the center of Athens, who is represented as the mastermind of the team; and a 70-year-old collector, the former owner of a famous hotel in Syntagma Square in Athens). According to the article, the police office identified is the head of the service that conducted the raids (the Internal Affairs service of the Greek police). The article claims that the statue is by Praxiteles but it may also be just a later Roman copy. The article says that police confiscated many antiquities from the dealer's shop, some from the house of the dealer's daughter, along with two metal detectors, photographic films and photographs depicting antiquities, a computer hard drive and USB stick, and a special machine or digger capable of excavating antiquities.

July 25, 2014

Lipinski Stradivarius Theft, Milwaukee: Man sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for participating in robbery (providing convicted felon with Taser used in attack)

Milwaukee Police arrested three suspects Feb. 3 for the theft on Jan. 27 of the $5 million dollar Lipinski Stradivarius violin recovered on Feb. 5 in a suitcase in an attic. At the end of May, Universal Allah, pleaded guilty to participating in the robbery. On July 24, Allah, described as a 36-year-old barber in Milwaukee and the father of two daughters, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. Megan Trimble of Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reported:
In addition to his prison term, Allah will remain under extended supervision for another 3 1/2 years, must avoid contact with the people involved in the attack and pay $4,014.57 in lost wages and ambulance fees to Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond....Allah's attorney and even the prosecutor had recommended only a suspended prison term and probation for three years. The crime's purported mastermind, Salah Salahadyn, 42, had been set to enter a guilty plea Thursday, but it was postponed. Allah, who had no prior criminal record, admitted providing Salahadyn, a felon, with the Taser used in the attack.

July 24, 2014

FORTE CESARE: lost, forgotten and hopefully found?

Forte Cesare, 2013 (Photo by C. Sezgin)
by Luca Antonini, ARCA graduate and resident of Amelia, Italy

Italy is famous all over the world for its rich and varied material heritage, some of it well-preserved as historical sites of interest or kept safe in rich museums located all over the country; other parts of it sadly neglected.

The abundance of historical, artistic and architectonic elements has always posed a problem of conservation, and there are additional issues such as limited resources and governance. At the municipal level, a lack of clear and enforceable guidelines often contributes to the problem, ambiguity leading to art crimes such as theft, vandalism or destruction brought about by natural events such as floods or earthquakes.

Forte Cesare had always been in private hands until the beginning of the 20th century, when it was added to the assets of the Municipality of Amelia. Recently, the Municipality sold Forte Cesare to a private company with plans to restore and use it.

Forte Cesare is the name given to a group of ancient buildings located on the top of a strategic hill dominating all the territories around it in the center of Umbria, the green heart of Italy. Administratively, the site belongs to the Municipality of Montecastrilli, province of Terni, which is 30 km east of Orvieto, 20 km south of Todi, 12 km north of Amelia and 85 km north of Rome.

Forte Cesare, 2013 (Photo by C. Sezgin)
The site was probably inhabited by the Romans, but the basements of the buildings we see today date back to the VI – VII century AD, when a fortified garrison was established along the path of the Via Amerina, the most important road of the Byzantine Corridor.

At the end of the Roman Empire, 476 AD, Rome was left to the Papal States, together with another area in the north-east of Italy, around Ravenna. In 584 AD, Ravenna became the capital of the Byzantine Exarchate, a sort of province of the Constantinople’s Eastern Roman Empire. The rest of Italy was invaded by different national groups coming from the north of Europe.

The only safe link between Rome and Ravenna was a little strip of land surrounded by territories occupied by the Lombards, with Tuscany to the west and Spoleto and Marche to the east; it was extended from Via Cassia, a few kilometers north of Rome, and reached Via Flaminia, a few kilometers south of Ravenna. Byzantine Corridor was the name given to the strip, and the road was called Via Amerina, touching the towns of Orte, Amelia, Todi and Perugia. At that time Forte Cesare was a fortified site with soldiers protecting people and goods traveling on both directions, but it was also a station to have a rest, change horses, and stop for the night.

Later on this area became part of Terre Arnolfe (lands under the control of the Archbishop of Spoleto, 10th – 11th century), but no official documents survive until the beginning of the 16th century, when it was sold by the Stefanucci family to the Atti family, a strong Guelph family ruling in Viterbo and originally from Todi.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, Forte Cesare was radically transformed from a military to a residential complex. Only the tower remained in its original dominant position, while all the other fortified parts were reunited in the new three-story villa.

Until that time, we find the toponym indicated as "Peroccolo", particularly on some maps made in the Vatican in the 19th century but stating the situation in the 13th century. The first time we find it named in relation to a “Cesare” in an official document is on a 1629 map; it probably comes from Cesare Borgia, a leader supporting the Roman Church in the wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines in the 15th century, who probably used the place during his military campaigns. This is one of the most credible hypotheses about the origin of the name we still use today.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Forte Cesare was donated by the Bishop Franceso Atti to Propaganda Fide, an organization created by the Pope to support the missionaries’ activities and some “related” ventures, including real estate management. Propaganda Fide immediately rented it out to the Verchiani family, and few years later (1808) sold it to Ciatti family. Angelo Ciatti was the last member of this family; at his death, in 1922, he decided to donate the whole estate to the Municipality of Amelia.

From the beginning, the ownership of the estate by the Municipality of Amelia was problematic.

Angelo Ciatti made provisions for the revenues from the estate to establish a permanent scholarship for poor families and to improve the Boccarini Boarding School in Amelia, and to support local education and charity in general. The college was run by the Franciscans and, since 1932, by the Salesian Fathers, and it was the most important school not only for Amelia, but for all the small villages and town in a range of several kilometers. According to Angelo Ciatti’s philanthropic wishes, Amelia was becoming an educational centre for the whole rural district; other towns with relevant school institutions were too far (Todi, Orvieto and Terni).

Two problems emerged following Ciatti’s wishes according his will: first of all, strong opposition from some distant relatives created some legal and administrative challenges after the estate became part of the Municipality of Amelia. Second, two different municipalities were involved in the same property, though in different roles and positions: Amelia was the legal and formal owner, but Forte Cesare is situated in the territory governed by Montecastrilli. Although this dualism seemed to exist without producing any problems in the first decades, it probably created the foundation for later situations of uncertainty, reciprocal discharge of responsibilities and apparent lack of initiative as to the property's care. After World War II, lands and buildings were rented to farmers, and later on to the Molino Cooperativo, a cooperative firm managing farming and milling activities, originally related to the cereal crops produced in the area.

Particularly after the earthquake of July 30, 1978, the condition of the abandoned buildings deteriorated heavily. Both lands and buildings fell into a slow but inexorable decline, due to theft and decay soon after. Before the end of the 20th century, the asset had turned into a burden for the mayor’s budget.

In 1986, the Municipality of Amelia requested a grant to develop the area through an initiative co-funded by the P.I.M. program and by the Regional Government of Umbria. Forte Cesare was included in three proposals: File A, 20 hectares of land assigned to an ungulate stock-breeding (fallow deer); File D, 120/150 hectares of land assigned to sheep farming; and File E, proposes to restore the villa and other close buildings to establish a training-college for students in agriculture, farming and rural hospitality; a restaurant and a show-store for local products were included in the project. Costs (E file only) amounted to 1.5 billion Lire

The P.I.M. projects were not funded, nor realized. This is the only documented project, made by the Municipality of Amelia, where a rough vision of an integrated solution is sketched, putting together “lands and buildings”. However, the proposed solutions contained a significant flaw: the cultural, historical and aesthetic value of the site was completely missing from the analysis, and consequently, twenty years after the P.I.M. draft project, a muddling through approach caused Forte Cesare – its condition further damaged and abandoned - to be sold to a private company.

When the estate was sold in 2005, no inventory was annexed to the contract. According to Angelo Ciatti’s holograph will, the holdings of Forte Cesare included:
1) The main villa, surrounded by 4 minor buildings, cisterns (this is important because the area is rich of water generally speaking, but not the hill where Forte Cesare was built), a big garden and vineyard surrounded by a wall; 2) the Chapel; 3) Water springs; 4) Croplands; 5) Grasslands; 6) Woods and copses; and 7) Orchards, including chestnut, wine, olive and more. 
a) Holy vessels, not better specified; b) Furniture, furnishing and fittings; c) Paintings (not specified in number, position, artist and age); d) Other “non social” rural tools (that probably means that, at that time, part of the implements for farming were collectively owned or used, whilst others were individually owned; customs from the Middle Ages still ruled the relationship between landlord and farmers); and e) Cattle and crops.
This list seems to be the only inventory ever made on Forte Cesare’s assets and real estates, a fact that makes its importance profound. The new owner has been working since the acquisition to on a project of restoration of the buildings and economic exploitation of the area. The project has not been approved by the Authorities yet. The Municipality of Montecastrilli, the Province of Terni, the Region of Umbria and Soprintendenza Beni Ambientali, Architettonici, Artistici e Storici of Perugia are involved.

The idea is to create a resort, turning the main building into a five star luxury hotel and restaurant; an 18-hole golf course and a spa will be created as part of the recreational facilities, sport and entertainment components of the resort concept. The project is ambitious and far-seeing, but far from the original heritage.

Luca Antonini originally wrote an academic paper under the same title for ARCA's Program in November 2012. Susan Douglas served as editor for adapting this piece  for the ARCA blog.

Luca Antonini graduated from ARCA program in 2012/3 and has a degree in economics from the University of Torino. Since the middle of the 90's, he has been working as project manager in local and sustainable development projects co-funded by the European Union. He specializes in managing non-government organizations (NGOs).

July 20, 2014

Book Review: ARCA Lecturer Tom Flynn adds chapter to "Risk and Uncertainty in the Art World"

by Martin Terrazas, ARCA Alum '13

Risk and Uncertainty in the Art World (ISBN: 9781472902924) is a notable attempt at compiling into cohesive curricula research by scholars such as Marina Bianchi, Tom Christopherson, Neil De Marchi, Elroy Dimson, Tom Flynn, Daiva Jurevičieně, Arjo Klamer, Roman Kräussl, Javier Lumbreras, Fleur Maijs, Benjamin Mandel, Clare McAndrew, Jianping Mei, Michael Moses, Laurent Noel, Anders Peterson, Rachel Pownall, Olivia Ralevski, Steve Satchell, Jaketrina Savičenko, Aylin Seçkin, Kyle Sommer, Christophe Spaenjers, Nandini Srivastava, Hans Van Miegroet, Thorstein Veblen, Olav Velthuis, and Luca Zan.

Published by Bloomsbury, it is edited by Anne Dempster (Sotheby’s Institute of Art). Contributors include Tom Christopherson (Sotheby’s Europe), Anders Petterson (ArtTactic), Olav Velthuis (University of Amsterdam), Hans J. Van Miegroet and Neil DeMarchi (Duke University), Marina Bianchi (University of Cassino), Rachel Pownall (University of Tilburg/University of Maastricht), Elroy Dimson (London Business School), Steve Satchell and Nandini Srivastava (Cambridge University), Christophe Spaenjers (HEC Paris), Laurent Noel (Audencia Nantes School of Management), and Arjo Klamer (Erasmus University). 

The book takes a multidisciplinary approach, through alternative investments, art history, behavioral economics, cross-cultural studies, due diligence, macro- and microeconomics, Modern Portfolio Theory, emerging markets, provenance research and many other topics. It is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the international art market.

Petterson’s discussion of how the Internet has changed the art market was robust. His description of the art market ecosystem and how it is adapting in light of online galleries, artist portals, social media, blogs, online auction/art fairs, online inventory management, price databases, indices, investors, art funds and wealth management, showed that there both a new audience and desire for transparency. In creating a more educated consumer, both traditional and upcoming entities have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Petterson’s article is a treatise against all those that desire not to adapt to provenance standards in the market.

Flynn’s discussion of the role of government and private corporations in art commissioning showed that more needs to be done in regards to authentication of art in the public space. What was striking about the article was that it showed a dissonance between corporate views on art and the industry, itself. A clear conclusion was that, in desiring to imagine itself as an ‘exception’ to business, the art world has only done itself more harm. As both a lecturer with the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and also in hosting a blog titled ArtKnows, Flynn, continues to be frontier of these discussions.

Satchell and Srivastava’s derivations about wealth and utility, adding upon Pownall’s essay, showed that there is still much more to connect between mathematical models, financial markets, and the art world. Integration of Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, the price and wealth effects, Marshallian demand, attempts at indexation – whether through the Financial Times All Shares (FTAS) and the London All Art price index or the Mei-Moses index – the Miller-Modigliani theorem, and the aesthetic dividend, make the reader wonder if the time is here for further data integration with the Standard & Poor’s and Thomson Reuters of the financial world.

The most disappointing was Christopherson’s essay that showed some dissonance against “testosterone-fuelled bond traders” (Risk and Uncertainty 65). The main discussion on legal title, authenticity, issues of attribution comparisons, condition, and valuation was vague. In discussing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Artists Resale Rights, and Bribery Act, Christopherson described a desire to return to an imaginary past. The ultimate lesson learned appeared that he merely seems unsatisfied with changing business models in the art market.

July 19, 2014

In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?

Toby Bull in Amelia (Photo by Paula Carretero)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Toby Bull, Senior Inspector of Police, in Hong Kong returned to Amelia  in June to present "In the Red Corner: “Connoisseurship and Art History”, and the Blue Corner: “Scientific Testing and Analysis” – Who’s right in determining Authenticity?" at the Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference.

“I was present at a public talk about  month ago in Hong Kong by one of the chairman from one of the big three auction houses and he actually used the ‘f- word’ in public,” Inspector Bull said. “And the ‘f-word’ in this case stands for fakes which shows that this hitherto unspoken word is now at least getting some recognition from the art trade in Hong Kong.”

Toby Bull discussed how modern scientific authentication methods have gradually helping shift the onus of detecting fakes pieces from the art historian and connoisseur to the laboratory scientist. Bull looked at the authorship of art – encompassing the thorny issue of attribution and authenticity, looking at the range of processes and methodologies needed to authenticate art in paintings, ceramics and metals. Bull differentiated scientific examination (where it can deliver information that cannot be determined otherwise, revealing many unexpected cases of forgery) from connoisseurship (the ability to make reasoned assessments about artistic authorship, distinguishing between originals and copies and thus identifying forgeries). "Whilst appearing to be at the far and opposing ends of the authentication spectrum, the subjective connoisseurship research methods of the art historian and the forensic testing procedures of the scientist are not only complimentary but also very vital facets for the art authenticator to have in his arsenal in the war against fakes and forgeries," Bull said.

Toby J.A. Bull was born in England and educated at the famous Rugby School. He holds three academic degrees, including a BA (Hons) in ‘Fine Arts Valuation’ and a MSc in ‘Risk, Crisis & Disaster Management’. He continued his studies in the arts by becoming a qualified art authenticator, studying at the Centre for Cultural Material Conservation and graduating from the University of Melbourne, Australia. His thesis was on the levels of fakes and forgeries of Chinese ceramics in Hong Kong and the problems of smuggled illicit antiquities emanating out of China and has subsequently had his work on this subject published. Since 1993, he has worked for the Hong Kong Police Force. He has lectured extensively on topics surrounding ‘Art Crime’ to the likes of Sotheby’s Institute of Art and The World Congress of Forensics, as well as to ARCA’s ‘Art Crime Conference’ in Amelia, 2013. Seeing the disparity between public and private involvement in the field of art crime and its associated spin-offs, Toby founded TrackArt in 2011– Hong Kong’s first Art Risk Consultancy.

July 18, 2014

ARCA '14 Art Crime Conference: James Moore on "The Fall of the House of Knoedler: Fakes, Deception and Naiveté"

James C. Moore presenting at ARCA conference in Amelia
(Photo by Paula Carretero)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Retired trial lawyer James C. Moore presented "The Fall of the House of Knoedler: Fakes, Deception and Naiveté" in the first presentation of ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference in Amelia on June 28.

Moore discussed how the Manhattan gallery, which had sold art since 1856 only to fall upon hard times in the middle of the 20th century, had drifted away from selling Old Masters and Cubist art to modern works where the competition was intense to gain access to the art.

Facing bankruptcy by the end of the 1960s, the gallery was sold to Armand Hammer in 1971 for $2.5 million. Under Hammer's leadership, Ann Freedman was hired a salesperson, but when ownership passed to Armand’s grandson Michael, he appointed Freedman director of the gallery with a focus on contemporary and abstract artists such as Rothko, de kooning, Diebenkorn, Motherwell, and Pollack.

In the early 1990s, Glafira Rosales appeared at the art gallery and showed Freedman an unknown Rothko sketch she claimed had been owned by a “Mr. X”, a closeted gay Filipino or Swiss man who had begun collecting abstract expressionist works which he had stored in Mexico – or Switzerland -- with the assistance of a New York art dealer, David Herbert. Rosales told Freeman that Mr. X had died and that his son -- identified only as "Mr. X, Jr." -- had decided to liquidate his father’s collection. And to do so, the paintings would be consigned, one at a time, to the Knoedler Gallery. Beginning in 1994, Rosales bought paintings every 3-6 months for a total of 40 works and agreed to sell them to the Knoedler Gallery for a fixed amount. Freeman would offer paintings for sale at higher prices – hanging the works in other shows by the artists, preparing write-ups, claiming that her experts had viewed the works although they had not authenticated them. In total, the Knoedler Gallery received $64 million for 40 paintings of which Rosales received $20 million.

In early 2000s, a Knoedler Gallery client bought a work ‘by Jackson Pollack’ for $2 million but after the painting failed authentication, the painting was returned and the purchase price refunded. Other similar events followed -- Sotheby’s would not sell a ‘Pollack’ in 2011, and when the owner asked for a $17 million refund, the gallery closed its doors.

The Knoedler Gallery has been named in eight lawsuits, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun an investigation of Ann Freedman, Glafira Rosales, and Rosales’ long-time companion Jose Carlos Bergantiños Diaz, who worked in a restaurant in New York City and sold art in the Chelsea district, along with Diaz's brother. According to Rosales, all of the paintings she sold to the Knoedler were fakes and were allegedly created by a 75-year-old artist, Pei-shen Qian, who was asked to create art in the style of abstract expressionist artists for people who could not afford originals. 

Before Rosales was arrested, Diaz went back to Spain and Qian went to China. Rosales pled guilty for collecting money and paying no income taxes (she sent the money to Spain). Rosales now faces sentencing up to 20 years. She is cooperating with federal authorities possibly in the hope of receiving a lesser sentence. Spain has been asked to send Diaz back to the U.S. to face charges.

Moore posed the question of accountability: 
Was Freedman actively or passively involved in the forgery scheme? No one but the buyers suing her has accused her of a crime. In fact, she sued a dealer for defamation who accused her of lack of care. Negligence (lack of care in verifying a paintings provenance) claims against dealers and galleries cannot be maintained when the parties have a contract relationship. The wording of the agreement between the parties, therefore, will be critical to the success or failure of the buyer's claim.

Moore also discussed the relative responsibilities of the gallery, the dealer, the expert authenticators and the buyer in fake painting claims.  Ultimately, Moore noted that as of this time, Rosales is free on bail, Freedman is running another gallery and is named as a defendant in eight lawsuits, the Diaz brothers are hoping not to leave Spain, and Qian is conducting art shows in Beijing.

Moore, an accomplished trial lawyer and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, is also a student of art history. http://www.jamesconklinmoore.com/

The Knoedler Art Gallery and Controversy: Further Reading

Gallery established in 1848

M. Knoedler & Company
Gallery opened in 1848

Knoedler bought out French owners in 1857



Knoedler & Company
Diebenkorn family expresses doubts about authenticity of two works in 1993

Three lawsuits claim paintings sold by Knoedler & Company



Anne Freedman -- complicit in fraud?

Michael Hammer -- cooperative or elusive?

July 17, 2014

Father Zerafa's recommended reading on Caravaggio's Stolen Palermo Nativity -- and his memory of visiting the painting in the S Lorenzo Chapel

Father Zerafa receiving an award in
the S Lorenzo chapel in Palermo
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

After downloading Daniel Silva's recent mystery which involves a fictional attempt to recover Caravaggio's Palermo Nativity, I emailed Father Marius Zerafa to ask him if he'd be reading Silva's thriller. With his permission, I am reprinting his response:
Unfortunately, I have not read the book you mentioned. A good book I would suggest is Peter Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy. This is not fiction. It is the story of a serious journalist who tries to contact the Mafia about the Palermo Caravaggio. At one time he is even told the Mafia had 'another Caravaggio in mind' which could easily have been our 'St Jerome'. 
While looking for the Palermo Caravaggio he discovers a number of paintings, stolen and exported illegally. A very interesting book. 'A must' for anyone interested in art thefts. 
As regards my personal interest in the Palermo Caravaggio, I can say that I had seen the original 'Nativity'. This was about 50 years ago and I had gone to Palermo just to see it. The S Lorenzo chapel was not safe at all. I remember knocking at a house next to the chapel and an old lady came and opened the chapel. I remember I was very impressed by the style of the painting (rather different from the other Sicilian works) and also by the strong contrast between the white Serpotta stuccoes and the dark Caravaggio painting. 
Father Zerafa and the S Lorenzo association
Since then I've been to Palermo practically every year. There is an Association, run by a very dedicated young man. They run the S Lorenzo chapel and they organize lectures, etc., associated with The Nativity. They even encourage artists to paint their own versions of the Nativity. I have been asked a number of times to lecture there, they have even awarded me their medal. 
I am sending you a couple of photos you may find of some interest. 
I did find the photos interesting and have included them here, then I ordered Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy from an independent bookstore (it's also available in many public libraries). And here is the December 2013 article published by BBC written by Alastair Cooke, the art critic for The Daily Telegraph on the Palermo Nativity. And here's a 2005 article by Peter Robb in The Telegraph, "Will we ever see it again?" which offers a compelling narrative on the Palermo Nativity theft.

And for Gabriel Allon fans, here's a link to Daniel Silva promoting his book on The Today Show.

Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Theft: Paying for The Heist

Picasso's 1971 Harlequin
by Liza Weber, ARCA '14 Student

Lawyers of convicted art thieves of the Kunsthal Rotterdam Heist appeal court’s ruling on grounds that the “responsibility for the theft rested solely with the museum”.

Rapsinews reported that the defense for Radu Dogaru, his mother Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop are appealing the Romanian courts ruling of €18.1 million to be paid to the paintings’ insurers, since the museum had not taken “proper security measures”. The thieves’ lawyers consider “no night guards on the premises” and security “monitored offsite by a private company” as supposedly improper measures.

Dick Drent, Corporate Security Manager for the Van Gogh Museum, contends “to have guards on site is a risk” however. Recalling the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist, where thieves posing as Boston police officers duped the guard on duty, Drent explicated that security personnel “can be used for blackmail, or even taken hostage”.

When I questioned Drent whether the lawyers appeal is as though a last reserve to get their ‘crooks off the hook’, he responded: “It is very easy to lay the problem on the other party—the security was not ok, the paintings were not originals—but we are still dealing with a theft…if the paintings are not real, why were they stolen?”

And why did the thieves go to such tale-spinning lengths to account for their disappearance? The seven still missing paintings suffered an “ignominious” fate; smuggled to Romania in pillowcases, the story goes that the mother of the alleged heist ringleader, Olga, claimed she to have buried the artworks in Caracliu’s village cemetery only to unearth them so as to cook them in her oven, as if “burning a pair of slippers,” art critic Pavel Susara told the Guardian.

It’s a twisted tale with possible substance, however. In July 2013, the director of Romania's National History Museum, Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, told the Associated Press that fragments of paint, painting primer, canvas, and copper nails—some of which pre-dated the 20th century—were recovered from Olga’s oven by museum forensic specialists.

When I related the story of the paintings’ destruction to Drent, he intercepted, “no, I don’t believe that story”. He rather predicts, as is the case for the “two missing Van Gogh paintings of the 2002 robbery,” that they will “resurface in due time”. 

But resurfacing where we might question? Identifiable artworks, once stolen, are near impossible to sell on the open market at anything like their auction value. Making an example of Van Gogh’s 1889 Sunflowers “estimated at unthinkable millions,” Drent rhetorically questioned: “Since it will never be on the market, why do we ever try to affix a price?”

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is priceless. As is Picasso’s 1971 Harlequin Head and Monet’s 1901 Waterloo Bridge, to name but two of the masterpieces stolen from the Kunsthal Rotterdam in 2012 whilst temporarily on display. Which is not to say that nobody is responsible for reimbursement of the damage done to the paintings…

Rather, where the thieves’ lawyers appeal is for Dick Drent but “a diversion,” and subsequently “a non-issue,” Radu Dogaru, mother Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop will surely pay the price.

Ms. Weber is a freelance journalist.