Manhattan Prosecutors Seize a Bronze Bust Valued at $5 Million

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An ancient Roman statue believed to depict the daughter of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, and valued at $5 million, has been seized by New York officials as part of a nationwide investigation into antiquities looted from what is now Turkey.

The Worcester Museum of Art in Massachusetts ceded the sculpture, “Portrait of a Lady (A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?),” which it acquired in 1966, to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, “after receiving new information about the object’s history of ownership,” according to a museum news release on Friday.

The statue is the second item from approximately 200 A.D. that the office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit has taken in recent months from an out-of-state museum. In mid-August, the unit seized a statue believed to represent Marcus Aurelius himself, and valued at $20 million, from the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio.

A spokesman for the office said on Saturday that the recovery of both sculptures was part of “an active criminal investigation into a smuggling network involving antiquities looted from Turkey and trafficked through Manhattan.”

The Worcester museum said it had scant information about the bronze female bust at the time it was acquired, and that while it had “conducted its own research at that time, it now acquires objects with greater diligence.”

The museum said it had not received any claims regarding the item before being served with a seizure warrant in June. “Based on the new evidence that was provided,” the museum said, it had determined “that the bronze was likely stolen and improperly imported,” and so it had “carried out the process of safely transferring the object.”

“We are very thankful for the new information provided to us,” said Matthias Waschek, the Worcester Art Museum’s director. “The ethical standards applicable to museums are much changed since the 1960s, and the museum is committed to managing its collection consistent with modern ethical standards.”

The museum said different sculptors had likely created the head of the bust and its draped shoulders, and that the objects had been “paired in antiquity.” It said “the woman’s heavy-lidded gaze betrays a contemplative personality as distant as the emperors themselves.”

The bronze statue from Cleveland that is believed to represent the Roman ruler and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, which, although headless, stands six feet, four inches tall, will be transported to New York by art movers this month, the district attorney’s office said.

A spokesman for the Cleveland museum said on Thursday that “because this matter is the subject of litigation in New York, the museum is not in a position to comment at this time.” The museum said it did not know the whereabouts of the statue’s head.

The Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art in the Bronx has also relinquished a Turkish item to the Antiquities Trafficking Unit. Based on a seizure warrant issued in March, the unit has removed “Young Caracalla Head,” also a bronze sculpture from the third century, and put its worth at $750,000. Caracalla was a Roman emperor from that period known for his bloodthirsty rule.

The Fordham museum, which acquired its bronze head in 2007, said it had given up the object as soon as a warrant was issued. “Of course we cooperated fully with the District Attorney’s office,” a spokesman for the university said on Saturday.

All three seized items are believed by Turkish officials to have originated in southwestern Turkey and to have been created when the region was known as Anatolia or Asia Minor and was under the rule of the Roman Empire.



POST AUTHOR: Tom Mashberg

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