On those 5,000 Antiquities Seized in Rome

archeological treasures at the Terme di Diocleziano museum in Rome, Italy.  Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPA
Just a portion of the antiquities on display at the Terme di Diocleziano museum in Rome, Italy.
Photograph: Claudio Peri/EPA

On Wednesday in Rome, Italian officials from the Carabinieri held a press conference to display a reported 5,361 objects recovered from the Swiss warehouses of Gianfranco Becchina. The staggering number of objects, many of which appear to be of museum-quality are disheartening to take in. How many tombs were ransacked? How much information lost?

The objects were, as far as I can gather,were slated for sale internationally, and presented here we can see none of their history and context. Seeing these images, I’m struck both by the destructive nature of the international trade in antiquities, and also the inability of the Italian criminal justice system to respond to these crimes and prevent this kind of theft. If the Carabinieri’s art squad, which by most accounts is one of the best-trainded and best-funded art crime policing outfits in the world cannot stop a massive looting operation like this, what are other countries without such a squad left to learn from the investigation? What does this say about the efficacy of the current approach to looting?

This press conference strikes me as yet another example of so-called “art on the table” events, though it is quite grander in its scope than the typical press conference.

These objects would have been seized nearly a decade ago, with the alleged dealer behind this operation, Becchina, left uncharged, without any criminal consequences for these actions, other than it seems losing all of his illicit merchandise. Why were no charges brought? There is certainly a high degree of likelihood that these objects were looted, but do we know all of these objects are illicit? Would more creative and pragmatic solutions have a better chance than the aggressive but sporadic policing model which is employed to the art trade at present?

 

 

1 thought on “On those 5,000 Antiquities Seized in Rome”

  1. “reported 5,361 objects looted from the Swiss warehouses of Gianfranco Becchina” – presumably “reported 5,361 looted objects from the Swiss warehouses of Gianfranco Becchina” :>)

    you note that many of the objects here “appear to be of museum-quality” and that raises the question of what happened to the other artefacts removed from their context at the same time which were not so saleable. That, surely is the measure of the destructiveness of this trade.

    As for the “current” approach to looting… Becchina could probably have counted a decade and a half in the past on shifting this lot too if he’d not had them seized. Would he have been able to shift them now by the same pathways as then?

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