Amid Scrutiny of Met’s Antiquities Collection, Turkey Reclaims Looted Objects Linked to Museum Trustee 

Last week, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office repatriated 12 antiquities to Turkey that had been looted from the country. Among them were items once held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has lately been the subject of increased scrutiny: an investigative report published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists last week that found an estimated 1,000 objects in its permanent collection have links to antiquities traffickers.

Nine of the repatriated items had been recovered from the collection of Met trustee Shelby White, a prominent New York philanthropist, after an investigation that led to the seizure of 89 artifacts estimated to be worth $69 million. The items were returned to officials of the Turkish Consulate during an official ceremony in New York.

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Cannon, before 1745, bronze, silver, gold, rubies, and wood.

The other three repatriated objects originated from archaeological sites in Turkey known as Perge and Bubon, and were recovered during separate investigations. One of them was a bronze statue of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus dated 225 CE, seized by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DANY) just last month from the Met, to which it had been loaned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2011; it had originally been in the collection of American coin dealer Charles Lipson. Turkish officials also took possession of The Perge Theater Head (290 CE), a bust depicting an anonymous woman. The piece surfaced at a Christie’s sale in 2012, and was loaned to the Met by a private collector. It was seized by authorities this past January.

White is just one of several collectors who have been the subject of the New York Antiquities Trafficking Unit’s scrutiny. Dealers Douglas Latchford and Subhash Kapoor, as well as past NYU trustee Michael Steinhardt, have all been the subjects of related seizures led by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit at DANY.

Manhattan authorities have been at the forefront of repatriation efforts since the antiquities trafficking unit’s formation in 2017. To date, the New York office has returned objects valued at more than $200 million.

Turkey has been steadily seeking the legal title of displaced artifacts. Earlier this month, a New York court rejected Turkey’s attempt to reclaim a marble statue known as the “Guennol Stargazer” for waiting too long to seek its return; the piece was sold at Christie’s in 2017 to Michael Steinhardt.

An attorney representing Turkey in the civil claim told ARTnews that the decision showed the hurdles that countries of origin often face in reclaiming misappropriated artifacts.

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