UK/Bonhams: on auction an object related to Becchina and Symes …again

In the forthcoming Antiquity Auction from Bonhams, in London, July 3, 2019, Lot 95 is of particular interest: an Apulian red-figure janiform kantharos. It is attributed to the Iliupersis Group, dated circa 375-350 BC. Bonhams notes that it derives from ‘an important American private collection’. The provenance section of the kantharos’ entry states:

  • Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 18 June 1991, lot 161.
  • with Merrin Gallery, New York.
  • Private collection, USA, acquired from the above in June 1991.

Becchina’s note regarding antiquities from Monticelli (left) and the kantharos from the Becchina archive.

However, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, an incoming Associate Professor-AIAS-COFUND Junior Research Fellow (2019-2022) at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus, identified the same kantharos depicted in images included in both the Becchina and the Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives (see images on the right).

In the Becchina archive, the kantharos is depicted in a regular-print image, covered by soil encrustations, missing parts of its rim and with a hole above the left eye of the satyr. The kantharos is depicted among several other antiquities of Italian origin (which are also depicted in the same state), standing on a wooden shelf, in front of a concrete wall – presumably Becchina’s warehouse in Basel, or a restorer’s laboratory.

According to a handwritten note in the Becchina archive (see image; probably written by Gianfranco Becchina himself), the ‘janiform’ was bought -among other antiquities- from the convicted middleman Raffaele Monticelli, for 60,000 Italian lire, in March 5, 1988. The acquisition of all the antiquities from Monticelli cost Becchina 290,000 Italian lire and the kantharos was by far the most expensive object of the group.

The kantharos as depicted in the Symes-Michaelides archive.

In the Symes-Michaelides archive, the same kantharos is depicted in two professional images, presenting both sides of the vase, fully restored and in the same condition that it now appears in the Bonhams auction (see images on the right).

Bonhams, once again, failed to exercise due diligence and to give the complete provenance of this vase, which would identify the involvement of notorious and convicted middlemen and dealers (Monticelli, Becchina, Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides).

Evidently, Bonhams did not contact the Italian authorities to check at least this object (if not the whole sale), before they compiled the catalogue of this auction, as Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis is repeatedly urging the market since many years; so it is him that has been identifying illicit antiquities and contributing to their repatriation to various countries.

Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit were informed by Dr. C. Tsirogiannis, as well as Interpol, asking them to forward the identification and all the evidence to the Italian authorities.

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