Archive for the ‘Looting’ Category

Twice-stolen Persian bas-relief returns to Iran

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

An ancient Persian bas-relief that has been stolen twice in two places across the world from each other has returned to Iran. It is a carved slab of limestone eight inches square depicting a curly-bearded “Immortal” (imperial guard) from the Achaemenid dynasty. He was one of a long line of soldier reliefs arrayed in precise formation on a balustrade besides the steps of Persepolis’ main building. They were carved between 510 and 330 B.C.

The bas-relief was discovered in Persepolis in a 1933 excavation of the site by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Contemporary photographs show the relief in situ, part of a line of imperial soldiers. Photographs show it still in place and untouched at least up to 1936. After that it vanished, reappearing 15 years later in the hands of French antiquities dealer and expert in Mediterranean sculpture Paul Mallon. Mallon sold it to Canadian department store heir and collector Frederick Cleveland Morgan for a comparative pittance ($1,000). Morgan donated the relief to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in the 1950s. It was on display there for six decades.

It was stolen again in September 2011 when a man wearing jeans, a dark jacket and a baseball cap casually walked into the museum in broad daylight and walked out with the Persian relief and a 1st century Roman marble head of a man. The brazen crime was never solved, but the bas relief was found in January of 2014 in the Edmonton home of a collector who claimed he thought it was a replica when he bought it from “a friend of a friend” for $1400 Canadian.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts decided to keep the $950,000 insurance payout it received after the theft and let its insurer, AXA, keep the title to the relief. AXA sold it to British antiquities dealer Rupert Wace. In October 2017, Wace offered the piece for sale for $1.2 million at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF). There it was, exposed to some of New York City’s deepest pockets, when the cops and city prosecutors waltzed in and seized it. The vociferous protests of the dealers — apparently the language got a tad bluer than the TEFAF crowd is accustomed to — fell on deaf ears.

Wace and his partner were shocked because the relief had been published and displayed extensively for 80 years, long before the 1970 UNESCO convention cutoff on the illegal export of cultural artifacts, but the Manhattan district attorney’s office was acting on evidence that the relief had been stolen after Persian passed the Cultural Heritage Protection Act in 1930 prohibiting the export of such artifacts.

The Manhattan DA created a full timeline of tracing the location and ownership history of the relief. Their contention was that nobody could own stolen property “in good faith” because there is no valid title to transfer in a sale and because the buyer should do his due diligence in ascertaining the reality of an object’s provenance instead of relying on conjecture. In this case, dealers said they just assumed the bas-relief had been looted from Persepolis in the 19th century. They had no evidence to support that hypothesis nor did they make any effort to determine its veracity.

In July of this year, a New York Supreme Court judge ordered that the relief be repatriated to Iran. After some negotiations, the London dealers agreed to fork it over. As of this week, the relief is back on Persian soil.

“It now belongs to the people who made it in the first place, and who are now going to preserve it, and is part of their identity,” Firouzeh Sepidnameh, director of the ancient history section of the National Museum told AFP on Tuesday.

The limestone relief was handed over to Iran’s representative at the United Nations last month and was personally brought back to Iran by President Hassan Rouhani, returning from the UN General Assembly.

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Tiny but mighty looted Thracian tomb excavated

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

A Hellenistic era Thracian tomb near the town of Rozovo has been found to be the smallest ancient Thracian brick tomb ever excavated in Bulgaria. It is a beehive tomb, known in Greek as a tholos (“domed”) tomb because of the progressively smaller stacked rings of bricks that create an interior false dome that looks similar to a beehive. The style and materials of the construction date it to the first half of the 3rd century B.C.

The Rozovo tomb is two miles from the Kazanlak Tomb, a 4th century B.C. tomb whose beehive dome is covered in elaborate murals depicting a funeral feast. The Kazanlak Tomb, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, is much larger and more expensively built and decorated than the Rozovo tomb, but they have one very important thing in common: they are the only beehive tombs ever found in Bulgaria whose domes are fully intact.

The Kazanlak Valley in central Bulgaria is famed for the great number of Thracian tombs in the area, most of them unexplored. There are an estimated 1,500 tumuli and only 300 of them have been officially excavated by archaeologists. All of those unmonitored, clearly distinguishable archaeological sites are frequent targets of looters hoping to find ancient funerary treasures which are eminently portable and in-demand goods on the illicit antiquities market.

The little beehive tomb slumbered undisturbed in the embrace of the burial mound above it for two thousand years or so until it was brutally assaulted by looters in 2010. Their filthy work was immediately noticed, but it another eight years would pass before the Kazanlak Museum of History was able to secure the necessary funding from the Bulgarian government for the urgently-needed salvage excavation of the tomb.

It was undoubtedly worth the wait. Even with all the wanton destruction wrought by those brutes in 2010 and their emptying the tomb of its contents, the architectural remains of the tomb itself are archaeologically priceless.

Lead archaeologists Georgi Nehrizov:

“It is curious that the treasure hunters’ digs were illogical and even a little. One of them was outside the burial chamber, and exposed its outer wall, which is totally pointless. Another dig came from the west, reached the burial chamber, and pierced its wall, which is also totally useless, destroying part of the dome room,” Nehrizov says.

He explains that the Ancient Thracian tomb near Rozovo is of the type of the Kazanlak Tomb, with a burial chamber and a small antechamber.

“This Hellenistic Era Thracian brick tomb is the second one after the Kazanlak Tomb to be discovered with a fully preserved dome. Several other such brick tombs have been found in the Kazanlak Valley [the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings] but they are less preserved, and material from them was used for other structures in later periods,” Nehrizov explains.”This is the smallest tomb of this kind to have been discovered so far. The dome’s top is covered with a stone slab. It consists of 23 rows of bricks of various shapes and sizes. There are rectangular, square, and sectoral bricks, and some of them are very thick. Our excavations lead to the conclusion that the bricks were baked here on the spot depending on the detail that the architect and builder needed, and everything was made to fit together,” the archaeologist elaborates.

In front of the burial chamber and the antechamber, there was a shed covered with Laconian – type roof tiles, large flat tiles which were pieced together with curved tiles.

“Apparently, the shed was a wooden structure. Such sheds have been found in other Ancient Thracian tombs in the Kazanlak Valley such as Shushmanets, the Griffins’ Tomb, the Helvetia Tomb, but here the shed seems better preserved. The treasure hunters didn’t dig from the south,” Nehrizov adds.

On the outside, the Rozovo Tomb was plastered with river stones shaping what the Bulgarian archaeologists refer to as a “coat”, which both solidified the structure and prevented atmospheric water from penetrating the tomb.

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Looted Amenhotep I relief found in London

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

A relief of the cartouche of Amenhotep I, second pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, has been found in London and is on its way back to Egypt. The relief was looted in 1988 from the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor, an open-air museum so huge that it is conceivable someone could snatch a piece of limestone inscribed with the birth name of a pharaoh.

The object was rediscovered by an unnamed archaeologist who spotted it at a London auction a few months ago. He recognized it as the relief stolen from Karnak 30 years ago and alerted the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The Ministry stopped the piece from being auctioned and worked with British authorities to arrange for its repatriation. The relief was officially returned to the Egyptian embassy in London on Friday.

Very little information about the reign of Amenhotep I (r. 1526-1506 B.C.) has survived. There are only a few relevant inscriptions, one of which was found in the tomb of his architect Ineni. Ineni’s biographical inscription records that Amenhotep ordered the expansion of the Temple of Karnak with the construction of several new structures. None of them stood for long. The remains of some of them were found in the fill of later construction from the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386-1349 B.C.).

On a personal note, it just so happens that I was at Karnak in 1988. I swear I didn’t swipe any cartouches, though. I didn’t even buy my mother a pendant cartouche of her name from the local souvenir shop, something she was bummed about for 25 years or so until she and my father finally went to Egypt and she bought for herself the cartouche pendant I had so brutally denied her when I was a dumb teenager. (It was expensive! I didn’t want to spend such a large amount of my cash at the beginning of the trip! I thought I’d have another chance! Reasons!)

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British Museum uncovers origin of looted objects, returns them to Iraq

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Researchers at the British Museum solved a mystery both ancient and modern when they discovered the origin site of eight artifacts looted from Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Thanks to their efforts, the objects are now on their way back to Iraq.

The orphaned artifacts were in custody of the British Museum after having been seized in a police raid on a London antiquities dealer in May 2003. The dealer had no proof of ownership — I guess he hadn’t gotten around to forging a “Swiss private collection” document yet — or any other documentation about the artifacts, so they were confiscated by the authorities and were in storage for almost 15 years.

The cold case was heated up when the Metropolitan Police reformed its art and antiquities squad. The squad gave the objects to the British Museum this year in the hope that its experts might be able to figure out where the pieces came from so they could be repatriated. As it turned out, the British Museum was uniquely well-positioned to uncover the truth about these objects.

The eight artifacts consist of three fired clay cones with Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions, a fragment of a white gypsum mace-head inscribed in Sumerian, a polished river pebble with a cuneiform inscription in Sumerian, one red marble and one white marble stamp-seal amulet from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000 B.C.) in the form of a reclining sheep and one banded white chalcedony seal of a reclining sphinx from the Achaemenid period.

It was the three cones that gave the British Museum the information they needed to pinpoint the origin site. The all bore the identical Sumerian inscription, one that is also know from other inscribed ancient artifacts. It reads: “For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagash, made things function as they should (and) he built and restored for him his Eninnu, the White Thunderbird.” This inscription identified the cones as coming from the archaeological city of Girsu (modern-day Tello) in southern Iraq where the Eninnu temple once stood. The temple was sacred Eninnu’s patron god Ningirsu.

The great temple complex is in the Tell A area of Tello where ongoing excavations have found artifacts and remains elucidating the plan, size and design of the temple. Archaeologists from the British Museum have been excavating Tell A since 2016 as part of the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme, a program set up in response to the IS destruction of cultural patrimony that trains staff from the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the latest techniques of rescue archaeology. The initial survey of Tello in 2015 and 2016 found dozens of looter pits. They were shallow and appear to have been targeted, small-scale efforts probably done at night by a few individuals rather than the massive looting operations that ran roughshod over Iraq’s ancient sites in 2003.

The British Museum team at Tello found broken cones identical to those seized in London. Their shape was an imitation of tent pegs and they were originally placed in holes in the temple wall, offerings to the Sumerian Thunderbird, the lion-headed god who roared thunder and flashed lightning bolts from his body. That’s how the researchers were able to discover not just the site where the objects had been looted from, but the actual wall they had been inserted in originally.

On Friday, August 10th, the artifacts were officially returned to the Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali in a ceremony at the British Museum.

Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali … said the protection of antiquities was an international responsibility and praised the British Museum and its staff “for their exceptional efforts in the process of identifying and returning looted antiquities to Iraq. Such collaboration between Iraq and the United Kingdom is vital for the preservation of Iraqi heritage.”

St John Simpson, the assistant keeper at the Middle East department of the museum, said: “Uniquely we could trace them not just to the site but to within inches of where they were stolen from. This is a very happy outcome, nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.”

They will be returned to the national museum in Baghdad and reunited with many objects from the recent excavations, and may eventually be loaned to a museum near the site.

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Spanish ingot thieves found; ingot lost forever

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Two men who stole a 17th century Spanish gold ingot from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West in 2010 were finally found in January and arrested. (Why it took the feds more than seven years to find two monster douchebags filmed by security cameras during the crime remains unexplained.) Richard Johnson and Jarred Goldman were charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and theft of an object of cultural patrimony. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years, the theft ten.

The men have now been convicted and sentenced to jail time. Johnson, who broke into the display case in broad daylight and walked out casually past security with the priceless object in his pocket was sentenced to serve 63 months (five years and three months). Goldman, who acted as a lookout, was sentenced to 40 months (three years and four months). Considering they could each have gotten 15 years, they both got off easy.

Unfortunately whatever time they end up doing will not be in a prison hulk, oubliette, dungeon or Roman silver mines even though retributive justice cries out for a prolonged period experiencing history’s most foul forms of punishment because of what they did to that ingot. They did not sell it to an unscrupulous collector. Like so many of these two-bit clowns, they wouldn’t have the first idea of how to unload so famous and specific an artifact. They didn’t have the 9th grade level of chemistry knowledge to melt it down and sell the gold for its market value. Instead they cut it up into small pieces and sold snippets in Las Vegas for pennies on the dollar. Obviously when I wrote that I hoped they wouldn’t just melt it for 70 grand worth of meth, I was way overestimating their abilities. Johnson doesn’t even have the decency to be addicted to meth. He blames a risibly expensive pot habit ($700 a week, really?) for driving him to it. That and childhood abuse at the hand of an uncle.

Those are just excuses thrown like spaghetti against the courtroom wall to see if any of them would stick and get him a lighter sentence. The museum offered a $10,000 reward for the return of the ingot. He didn’t have to destroy an irreplaceable historic artifact for loose change, no matter how refined his taste in weed.

Johnson cooperated with the feds and testified against Goldman at his trial, hence his far too generous sentence. He also provided information that allowed authorities to recover one of the snippets he cut off the ingot. It’s about 1/30th of the whole so it’s not much consolation.

Both men must also pay $570,195 in restitution to the museum for the bar, which the museum valued at over $560,000 at the time of the theft. Martinez said he didn’t expect either convict would be able to come up with much money.

Insurance paid the museum about $100,000 for the bar, which was recovered in 1980 by treasure hunter Mel Fisher and his team from a centuries-old shipwreck off the Florida Keys. […]

“That’s the point of view of insurance companies and jewelers,” museum CEO Melissa Kendrick testified Monday as Johnson’s attorney, Chad Piotrowski, argued the bar was worth the rate of gold and no more in an effort to secure a lesser sentence for his client. “As professionals, we don’t see it that way.”

Kendrick said, “The cultural community doesn’t value a Rembrandt for the cost of canvas and the paint.”

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A riveting look at the Gardner heist via podcast

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Boston’s National Public Radio station WBUR and the Boston Globe have produced a podcast series dubbed Last Seen on the greatest unsolved art crime in history, the theft of 13 masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18th, 1990. The case has bedeviled authorities local and federal for 28 years and is still being actively investigated. The reward money is now up to $10 million, and yet, concrete evidence of any kind remains elusive.

The 10-episode series will look at the events of March 18th, 1990 and follow the track of the investigations, but it won’t be a retelling of what went down. There will be interviews with people who have never been interviewed before, among them the second security guard on duty that night and in-depth examinations of the investigative trail over the decades. The reporters have been given unprecedented access to the Gardner heist materials and many of those materials will be posted online in tandem with the podcasts.

“Our reporters have spoken to key people who have never before publicly talked. They have seen places and documents that no other reporters have seen before. Their work even led federal authorities to conduct a high-stakes excavation in a residential neighborhood in Florida. It all comes together in a provocative look not only at the crime and all the colorful characters around it, but at the investigation that has failed to solve it,” said Jane Bowman, Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, The Boston Globe. […]

Who pulled off what the FBI describes as the largest property crime case in U.S. history? Was it a mob associate who ran the TRC Auto Electric repair shop in Dorchester, the Irish Republican Army and Whitey Bulger, two wannabe rock ‘n’ rollers or someone else entirely? Last Seen looks at these and many more suspects as hosts Horan and Rodolico travel from Boston to Philadelphia, Florida, Ireland and Italy investigating motives, scenarios and dead bodies with key players and leading experts on the robbery.

The series begins on September 17th and subsequent episodes will air every Monday. There’s an associated Facebook group you can join to comment on the podcasts and discuss it with other listeners. If you have iTunes (I broke up with it years ago and it was a nasty split), you can subscribe to the podcast here. The podcast will also be available for streaming on WBUR’s Last Seen page and for streaming and download in any other of your favorite podcast purveyors (here it is on Podbay.fm, for example).

Get a tantalizing taste of Last Seen in this excellent trailer. That old-time radio announcer opening and the clips of statements from investigators, witnesses and suspects give it a genuinely haunted crime-thriller vibe.

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Cornplanter’s tomahawk back at museum 70 years after theft

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

A historic pipe tomahawk has returned to the New York State Museum 70 years after it was stolen by person or persons unknown. The tomahawk belonged to Allegheny Seneca war chief Cornplanter who received as a diplomatic gift from President George Washington in 1792. As war chief, Cornplanter had led the Seneca as allies of the French against the British in the French and Indian War. He took on the war chief mantle again during the Revolutionary War, this time on the British side. His involvement was against his better judgment as he thought the Iroquois nations should remain neutral. He was outvoted, however, and reluctantly did his duty.

Cornplanter, fighting with Loyalist forces, was successful as a war leader. Pro-Independence settlers were killed and their properties were burned, and the Colonists did the same to Iroquois towns. George Washington dispatched Major General John Sullivan to eliminate the Iroquois in New York state and he did just that, first defeating them in pitched battle and then systematically burning every village, farmed field, food store and animal from May to September of 1779. When winter came, the surviving Iroquois had nothing to live on. The refugees headed up to Canada, Cornplanter trying his best to get them to safety, but many of them died from starvation and cold.

With the war lost and the Colonists colonists no more, Cornplanter turned to his diplomatic skills. He helped negotiate and was a signatory of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 and met personally with President George Washington in 1790 to protest how the Seneca and other Iroquois nations were being treated, treaties notwithstanding.

Pipe tomahawks were significant objects of intercultural exchange in the 18th century and could be used as smoking pipes; smoking was a common ceremonial practice between parties after reaching an agreement. The meetings between Washington and Cornplanter, also known as Gy-ant-waka, in the 1790s eventually led to the Treaty of Canandaigua (1794), which established peace between the sovereign nations of the U.S. and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.

Cornplanter died in 1836. There is no record of the movements of the ceremonial pipe tomahawk until 1850 when it was donated to the New York State Museum by Seneca statesman, civil engineer, attorney and Union lieutenant colonel Ely Samuel Parker. He acquired it from the widow of a Seneca man named Small Berry. The haft was not original when Parker got the tomahawk, but Cornplanter’s name in the Seneca language, Gy-ant-waka, was engraved on one side of the blade identifying it as the historic piece. The name John Andrus engraved on the other side is unknown but is thought to have been the manufacturer.

Small Berry’s widow described the original haft to Parker, so he replaced the replacement with a replica that came as close as possible to her description: curly maple decorated with bands and geometric spade/arrowhead-like shapes of silver inlay. While he was at it, Parker added a brass plate engraved with his own name to the bore end.

The pipe was an important piece in the museum’s ethnographic collection for decades. It disappeared between 1947 and 1950, it’s not clear exactly when or how. Whoever snatched it, it wound up in the murky penumbra of private collections until June of this year when one last anonymous collector finally had the decency to return it to the State Museum. It is now on display in the museum’s main lobby through December 30th.

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European police seize 25,000 trafficked artifacts

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>A coordinated sting of an antiquities trafficking operation executed in four European countries has resulted in the seizure of 25,000 ancient artifacts worth an estimated 40 million euros ($46 million). The pre-dawn action saw more than 250 law enforcement officers raid 40 different locations in Italy, Spain, Britain and Germany, and arrest 23 individuals.

This is the culmination of four years of investigation into a major smuggling ring that began with the discovery of a looted archaeological site in the small town of Riesi in the Caltanissetta area of central Sicily. Before the coordinated raids, Italian authorities confiscated 3,000 artifacts, 1,200 forgeries and 1,500 tools of the looting trade including metal detectors.

The stolen artifacts, mostly coins, statues and pottery, all seem to have been illegally excavated in and around Caltanissetta which has a rich Greek, Punic and Roman history. From there, the objects were smuggled up the boot of Italy, out of the country to Germany where they were sold with ginned up ownership histories. Police searched locations in Sicily, Calabria, Piedmont and Apulia, one the largest crackdowns on heritage crime in Italian history.

Europol, which financed the meetings between each country’s forces, said that key facilitators in the trafficking ring were “also acting from Barcelona and London, coordinating the supply chain and providing technical support”.

Metropolitan Police officers acting on a European arrest warrant issued by Italian magistrates Wednesday arrested the art dealer, Thomas William Veres, 64, in London, a Carabinieri paramilitary police spokesman told a news conference.[…]

The Sicilian smuggling operation is alleged to have been masterminded by Francesco Lucerna, 76, another of those arrested Wednesday.

Mr Lucerna regularly dispatched stolen archaeological remains to northern Italy through a network of couriers where they allegedly made contact with Mr Veres’ gang, investigators believe.

The gang also set up workshops where teams of counterfeiters copied some of the archaeological remains and sold replica copies as originals, it is alleged.

The investigation into the vast operation is still ongoing. The two auction houses in Munich which regularly received and sold the smuggled artifacts are under investigation as well.

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Reward offered for Moundville artifacts stolen 40 years ago

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

The Moundville Archaeological Site near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was the political and religious center of a Mississippian culture polity that flourished from the 11th to the 16th century. Today the park consists of 29 mounds and a large rectangular plaza which have been extensively excavated. It also includes a museum and archaeological repository. It is a National Historic Landmark and is the second largest Mississipian site after Cahokia, Illinois. one of Alabama’s most important historic sites.

In March of 1980, thieves broke into the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository on the Moundville site and made off with 264 Native American artifacts. This was a loss of eight centuries worth of pottery vessels — bottles, bowls, jars and fragments — worth an estimated $1 million in 1980, the equivalent of about $3 million today. Some of the stolen objects were, according to archaeologists, among the highest-quality artifacts ever found at Moundville, recovered during excavations in the 1930s and completely irreplaceable. The sheer quantity was devastating as well, representing one fifth of the entire Moundville pottery collection and an agonizing 70% of the museum-quality pieces. To this day, the Moundville theft is the largest recorded antiquities theft in the Southern United States.

The theft was discovered by University of Michigan students who walked into the repository on March 6th to find boxes of artifacts lined up against the wall. Authorities suspect the thieves made several trips with boxes full of loot and had another one (or more) planned but were thwarted for some reason. The organized nature of the theft and the consistently exceptional quality of the chosen items strongly suggests that thieves were either educated in Mississippian artifacts or working with/for someone who was.

It’s been more than 38 years and none of the 264 artifacts have been seen since, let alone recovered. Because the market for Native American objects is predominately US-based, it’s likely they’re still in the country, even after so much time has elapsed. The thefts weren’t widely publicized at the time. There was a notice posted in the Journal of Field Archaeology in 1981 and the FBI was on the case, but it’s a whole new world now when it comes to the sale of stolen antiquities. Large internet auction sites like eBay are routinely used by looters, dealers and collectors to sell goods with questionable ownership histories.

In the hope that the power of the information age might be harnessed to solve this mystery, a private organization, the Associates for the Return of Moundville Artifacts, is now offering a reward of $15,000 for any information leading to the recovery of these priceless objects. They’ve established a confidential tip line (205 348-2800) for people to call with information. There’s a photo gallery of most of the stolen artifacts online here. If you see anything like them during your surfing and antiquing, please call the tip line.

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Anne of Brittany’s heart stolen, found

Friday, May 4th, 2018

On the night of Friday, April 13th, thieves broke in through a window of the Musée Dobrée in Nantes, western France, and stole the gold reliquary made to contain the heart of one of my favorite historic personages, Anne of Brittany. The alarm did sound, but it was insufficient to stop the thieves.

The only woman ever to be queen of France two separate times (both entirely against her will), Anne struggled her whole life to keep Brittany independent and after her sadly premature death in 1514 at the age of 37 was a revered symbol of Brittany’s unique history and culture. The reliquary that contained her heart was created shortly after her death and is inscribed “In this little vessel of fine gold, pure and clean, rests a heart greater than any lady in the world ever had. Anne was her name, twice queen in France, Duchess of the Bretons, royal and sovereign.”

That dedication may have been part of the attraction for the thieves who may have been hoping to make big bucks by melting it, but the 6-inch reliquary and its lovely crown of nine fleurs-de-lis together total only 100 grams of gold. This is not the first time the gold reliquary and crown had a brush with the crucible. It was confiscated during the French Revolution and Anne’s heart thrown in the trash, a fate suffered by so many royal remains. The container was ordered melted down, but the order was never followed and the reliquary was kept intact in the Bibliothèque Nationale until 1819 when it was returned to Nantes. It has been part of the collection of the Musée Dobrée since the 1880s.

There were murmurs that Breton nationalists might have been behind the theft, but the authorities thought it more likely to have been the work of petty thieves. Councilors of the Loire-Atlantique department accordingly appealed in the press for the return of the precious artifact, pointing out that it has far more historical value than monetary.

A week later, Nantes police found the reliquary, a figurine and some gold coins, all stolen from the museum, at an undisclosed location near the museum.

Two men in their early twenties have been arrested and charged with “association with criminals” and “theft of cultural assets”. One is known to authorities. They both deny involvement. Two other suspects are at large.

According to Pierre Sennes, the Nantes prosecutor, the prized gold case “seems to be in good shape”.

The museum reopened to visitors last week, sans reliquary for the time being, but on Wednesday, May 2nd, the government of the Loire-Atlantique department announced that the Voyage in the Collections exhibition would be closed permanently because of the thefts and the damage inflicted on the display. It was supposed to run through September 30th.

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