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Italy Seeks Ancient Loot From Symes Trustees

Italy Seeks Ancient Loot From Symes Trustees

By Suzan Mazur

"The collection represents a selection of objects from a larger collection formed by Maurice Tempelsman, a diamond merchant resident in New York, over the past twenty-five years. The individual pieces come from a variety of sources, although the largest number were provided directly by, or were bought legally through, Robin Symes of London. All have been legally imported into the U.S. The collection is currently in the Museum." -- Acquisition Notes of Getty Museum antiquities curator Arthur Houghton cited in The Medici Conspiracy.

Among the high profile clients of British antiquities dealer Robin Symes was Maurice Tempelsman -- one of the pillars of the Eastern Establishment (Council on Foreign Relations, Africa-America Institute, long-time beau of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and "friend" of former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright); Leon Levy & Shelby White and the Metropolitan Museum of Art were customers too. Symes bought his pieces primarily from now-convicted antiquities smuggler Giacomo Medici, the man who sold the Euphronios Sarpedon vases to Bob Hecht.

In a reversal of fortune beginning with the accidental death of Symes's long-time business partner and companion Christo Michaelides ten years ago at a dinner party in Italy hosted by Levy & White and then many months in prison in the UK -- Symes, once the prince of the ancient art trade, is now bankrupt. And Italy is asking for restitution of some 1,000 artifacts from Symes's Trustees in Bankruptcy, according to Maurizio Fiorilli, the lawyer for Italy's Ministry of Culture who negotiated the return of the Euphronios krater and other treasures from America's museums.

Although Symes destroyed most of the documents related to his business partnership with Michaelides, there is still an indelible photo trail. Here is a sampling of the pieces Italy seeks as part of its cultural patrimony. In many cases there is an exact match of objects in the Medici polaroids seized during police raids on Medici in Geneva and of objects in the Symes hoard photographed by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Images Courtesy of Davide Proietti/Carabinieri Art Squad

1. Etruscan terracotta relief, draped woman Southern Etruria

Photo Medici ----- Photo Symes #2603
Click for big versions

2. Etruscan terracotta head

Photo Medici --------- Photo - Symes #2582
Click for big versions

3. Etruscan gold and glass beaded necklace with round flat pendant

Photo Medici

Photo Medici --------- Photo - Symes #2841
Click for big versions

4. Etruscan gold and blue class beaded necklace with gold amphora

Photo Medici ----------- Photo - Symes
Click for big version

5. # 199 Earthenware pot with applied panel relief decoration from Vulci, 7th Century BC

Click for big version

6. #2624 Patera with handle in human shape, Greek from Southern Italy, 6th Century BC

Click for big version

7. #G 1210 Bone fibulae - dolphins from Taranto

Click for big version

8. #I 1269 Terracotta vegetal ornaments from Taranto

Click for big version

9. #37D Foot of black-figure Attic vase with Etruscan inscription

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10. #I/1190 Italic or Etruscan bronze statuette, 6th - 5th Century BC

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11. #R 2767 Silver phiale, two silver cups (calathus) and a silver patera, 1st - 2nd Century AD. Similar to artifacts from Pompeii, Ercolano and Boscoreale

Click for big version

12. #2361 Carinated cup with baccellature common to the Vesuvian area, decorated on the outward side with leaf designs in pairs.

Click for big version



Suzan Mazur's stories on art and antiquities have been published in The Economist, Financial Times, Connoisseur, Archaeology (cover) and Newsday. Other reports have appeared on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Email:

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