Two Stolen Artifacts, From the Collection of a Met Board Member, Were Returned to China

Two looted stone-carved tomb beds valued at $3.5 million were repatriated to China, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced earlier this week in a press release.

The two artifacts were among 89 total antiquities seized from the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art board member, Shelby White, following a criminal investigation. The objects, which weigh more than 1,000 pounds, had been on loan to the museum since 1998. One was on display, while the other was housed in a storage area.

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“It is a shame that these two incredible antiquities were stolen and at least one remained largely hidden from the public view for nearly three decades”, said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. in a statement. “The incredible detail and beauty of these pieces can never be truly captured by a price tag”.

The carvings on the tombs depict Zoroastrian religious scenes such as good demons triumphing over devils, watch dogs, and masked caretakers clad in feathered cloaks with bird feet.

In their investigation, the DA’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit determined that the artifacts were looted and smuggled out of China in the early 1900s. They were cut with saws from a seventh-century funerary platform by looters and later sold to White.

The 89 works seized by authorities from White’s collection came from 10 different countries and are valued at almost $69 million. This is not the first time authorities have seized works from White’s collection.

The stone tomb beds were presented in a repatriation ceremony to the Chinese consulate in New York on Tuesday. They are expected to be transferred to China’s cultural heritage administration.

“Cultural property embodies human wisdom and creativity. They are the link between the past and the present”, remarked consul general Huang Ping in a statement. “They are also an important bridge connecting different countries and cultures. That is why we regard the crackdown on crimes against cultural property a sacred mission”.


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