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

Last week, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office 12 antiquities to Turkey that were looted from the country. The collection included some items once held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has been the subject of increased scrutiny following an investigative report published by the ICIJ last week that found an estimated 1,000 objects in its permanent collection have links to antiquities traffickers.

A group of nine items were recovered from the collection of Met trustee Shelby White, a prominent New York philanthropist, after an investigation that led to the seizure of artifacts estimated to be worth $29 million. The items were returned during an official ceremony in New York to officials of the Turkish Consulate.

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Among the items repatriated during the ceremony included a bronze statue of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus dated from 225 C.E. Another entitled The Perge Theater Head, depicting a bust of an anonymous woman and dated from 290 C.E., was also received by Turkish officials. The piece surfaced at a Christie’s sale in 2012 and was loaned to the Met from a private collector. It was seized by authorities in January.

White is just one of collector who has been the subject of New York’s antiquities unit’s scrutiny. Dealers Douglas Latchford and Subhash Kapoor, as well as the past NYU trustee Michael Steinhardt, have all been the subject of related seizures led by The Antiquities Trafficking Unit at the New York D.A.

Another three objects originating from archaeological sites in Turkey known as Perge and Bubon were recovered during separate investigations.

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

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” that was sold at Christie’s to Michael Steinhardt for waiting too long to seek its return.

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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