A number of looted artifacts returned to Turkey and Italy in the past three months from the collection of prominent American philanthropist Shelby White have been uncovered. The items have been seized from White’s Manhattan home over the past 18 months, as part of a long-running investigation probing the provenance of her private collection.
Search warrants issued by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on June 28, 2021 and April 27, 2022, seen by Art Newspaper, list five and 18 works, respectively, that Homeland Security agents found “reasonable reason” to believe were plagiarized. The documents indicate that they constitute evidence of criminal possession of stolen property in the first, second, third and fourth degrees, as well as conspiracy to commit those crimes.
Matthew Bogdanos, head of the Manhattan DA Antiquities Trafficking Unit, declined to comment because the case is active. White also chose not to comment, saying Art Newspaper: “I really have nothing to say.”
White is a major donor to institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she serves as a trustee and board member, and to New York University, which was founded by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in 2006 through a controversial gift of $200 million. Together with her late husband Leon Levy, whose foundation she now directs, she built a collection of ancient art representing ancient Near Eastern, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and other cultures. White and Levy also made a $20 million gift to the Met, and in 2007 the foundation named a massive gallery of Greek and Roman art after Leon Levy and Shelby White Court.
This isn’t the first time the Levy-White collection has been checked for looted items. In 1990, more than 200 pieces from the couple’s collection at the Met were shown at the gallery Past Glories: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection; A decade later, archaeologists David Gill and Christopher Chippendale published a study They found that 93 percent of the works presented had no known provenance. In 2008, White handed over a dozen classical artifacts to the Italian authorities, as well as two 4th-century BC pieces to Greece. In 2011, the top of the Heracles is tired The statue, which is jointly owned by Levy and White and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is on display at past gloriesto Turkey.
Many works have been published in past glories Among those captured in recent repatriation efforts. In October, a life-size bronze statue of Roman emperor Lucius Verus, dating from the late 2nd to early 3rd centuries AD, and four sections of an Anatolian columned sarcophagus from the ancient city of Perge, dated between 170 and 180 CE, to Turkey after joint repatriation efforts by The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. A search warrant issued on April 27 to White listed the value of the statue at $15 million and the sarcophagus fragments at $1 million.
Both works were unveiled during a repatriation ceremony at the Antalya Museum on November 13, along with four other looted objects, including an early Bronze Age Kosura marble idol and a statue of Apollo. According to the US Consulate General in Istanbul, the artifacts have been excavated It was illegally excavated in Turkey over 50 years ago and smuggled into the United States. Hurriyet Daily News has identified the previous owners of all six businesses As two auction houses and an unnamed collector in the United States.
But Gill, professor emeritus at the University of Kent’s Heritage Centre, was quick to link to White, noting on his Looting Matters blog how things turned out in past glories. Gill also published a list of the objects Previously on the Levy-White series returned to date. Many of them were identified by his former student, Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist and antiquities trafficking expert affiliated with the Ionian University in Greece, who had been sending photographic evidence to the Manhattan office of DA.
List of artifacts confiscated this year from White’s apartment and returned to Italy in September: Red-shaped Calix Crater (c. 515 BC, valued at $3 million); Apulian gully with a ram’s head spout (c. 330 BC, value $15,000); and two plates of fish, attributed to the squid painter and the Perrone-Phrixos group of painters (mid-4th century BC, both valued at $20,000). Art Newspaper Also identified among the objects seized was a “bronze bust of a human being” (1st century BC, valued at $3 million); a cauldron with four animal heads (6th century BC, valued at $150,000); and a bronze spiral brooch (worth $25,000) previously in White’s possession. They counted among the 58 artifacts that the Manhattan Museum returned in September, including 21 from the Dead.
At least one other object, a 700 BC ritual dino seized from White’s collection under a June 2021 warrant, was also returned to Italy. It was among nearly 200 stolen Greek and Roman artifacts recovered from museums and homes across the United States in December 2021, in what officials described as the largest repatriation of antiquities from the United States to Italy.
White’s name hasn’t yet been mentioned in any official homecoming notices, but Gill expects more announcements to come from the Manhattan DA’s office. “I think it’s very clear that they didn’t say it was Shelby,” he says of the returned artifacts. “So this is now part of a much larger investigation… We’ve got material that goes back to Italy and Turkey. I think there is material that will go back to Greece.”
He adds that museums should pay attention and properly evaluate future loans from the White and Levy collection. “They obviously got a number of things illegally dug up and removed from their home countries outside the legal framework,” he says. “I’m sure they would say they got things in good faith. But the amount of looting we know — they needed to do their due diligence before they got it. And museums have to do their due diligence when accepting loans.”
But Tsirogiannis says he’s not optimistic about museums changing their ways. “The antiquities market and museums are doing the same thing that collectors do: They don’t check their holdings with the authorities; instead, they try to hold on to them as much as possible, thinking they might get away with it,” he says. “But in reality – perhaps without even wanting to realize it – they are waiting for the inevitable: the authorities are knocking on their door with an order. It is their choice to follow this strategy, but they should have known by now that this was not working, and that they had to change their position.
“The recent case on the Shelby Whites set is, again, another proof, among many, of this point.”
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