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Headless torso seized

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   Officials have seized a headless headless female torso and plan to return it to Italy, where it had been stolen some three decades earlier from Benito Mussolini’s former home.
At this point, it should probably be noted the torso is marble, part of a hacked statue that was sold to a New Yorker in 2001 for $75,000. The New Yorker (a person, not the magazine) realized it was stolen shortly after contemplating offering the torso at auction and turned it over to the FBI in 2015.

The statue fragment is known as the “Torlonia Peplophoros” — Peplophoros meaning ancient Greek garment, and Torlonia meaning the 18th Century villa where it had been on display. The FBI described the villa this way:

In 1797, Giovanni Torlonia, a famous Vatican banker in Rome, purchased what is now called the Villa Torlonia (the “Villa”) after inheriting the title of Marchese. The Torlonia family owned the Villa until 1977, though it was used by Benito Mussolini as his personal residence from 1925 to 1943, and then occupied by the Allied High Command from 1944 to 1947. After 1947, the Villa was abandoned and deteriorated until the Municipality of Rome purchased it from the Torlonia family in 1977. Since 1978, the Villa has been opened to the public and restored by the Municipality of Rome.  

In November 1983, thieves stole the torso and about 14 other pieces from the villa. It was brought to the United States in the 1990s through a gallery that sold it to the New Yorker.

The torso isn’t the first object to be recovered since the theft.

A 1st Century A.D. disembodied Dionysus head surfaced at an American auction house in 2002. It was returned to Italy in 2006 along with what media accounts described as a another headless statue, although it wasn’t clear if that torso was part of the Torlonia heist.

Other bodies and body parts that remain at large include a Roman copy of a 4th Century B.C. Greek statue of Hercules and a marble head believed to that of Emperor Constantine.

Bronze Manikkavichavakar heading home

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Manikkavichavakar, photo courtesy of ICE


  Long story made short: In India in the 800s, Manikkavichavakar was sent to buy 10,000 Arabian horses for the king of Pandya on the subcontinent’s southern tip. On the way, he ran into a devotee of Shiva, became enlightened and used the horse-trading money to build a temple. He wrote some hymns, got famous, became a saint, and had a bunch of statues made in his honor.

More recently, a Manikkavichavakar statue got swiped from India and wound up in the U.S. and was recovered by the feds on Wednesday.

Below is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement account:

ICE partners with art collector to recover stolen idol from India

NEW YORK – An anonymous collector of Asian antiquities voluntarily surrendered a stolen 11-12th century Chola bronze statue representing Saint Manikkavichavakar. Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations’ cultural property unit determined the object had been looted from the Sivan Temple in Sripuranthan Village in Ariyalur District, Tamil Nadu in India.  The recovery of this religious relic Wednesday follows an ongoing international smuggling probe by HSI.

HSI special agents believe the collector is a victim in this situation because when the artifact was purchased in 2006, a false provenance was provided with the piece that had been manufactured to pre-date the idol’s theft.

HSI special agents have tracked multiple false provenances provided by Subhash Kapoor, the owner of Art of the Past Gallery, who has been implicated in the HSI probe dubbed Operation Hidden Idol. This methodology of back-tracking an artifact to its theft site and searching out the smuggling methods from the source country to Kapoor’s U.S. gallery has led to numerous recoveries. To date, HSI special agents, in conjunction with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, have netted in excess of 2,500 artifacts worth over $100 million. These artifacts have been sourced from countries all around the world.

On Wednesday afternoon, HSI formally took custody of the stolen idol of Saint Manikkavichavakar linked to the ongoing investigation. Although the relic is a religious idol and priceless to its worshippers, it could sell for as much as $1 million if legitimately offered on the market today. In addition to recovering this idol from the Tamil Nadu temples, HSI also has recovered at least six other sacred Chola bronzes that it anticipates forfeiting and repatriating to the Government of India.

HSI’s Operation Hidden Idol focuses on the activities of a former New York-based art dealer, Kapoor, who is currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rare antiquities from several nations. The trails of looted artifacts have been traced all around the world. Within the past three months, two domestic museums, the Honolulu Museum and Peabody Essex, partnered with HSI to surrender illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor. Over the last three years, HSI special agents have executed a series of search warrants targeting Kapoor’s Manhattan gallery, along with warehouses and storage facilities linked to the dealer. Additionally, three individuals have been arrested in the United States for their role in the scheme. The estimated value of the artifacts seized so far in the case exceeds $100 million.

Statue returned to Cambodia

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The Duryodhana, a 10th century sandstone sculpture that was looted in the 1970s, has been returned to Cambodia. Photo courtesy ICE.

After being pried from a temple, beheaded and offered for auction, a statue has been returned to Cambodia. Below is a rundown on the case from customs enforcement:

Cambodian officials recognize HSI for return of ancient sandstone sculpture
May 7, 2014

NEW YORK — At a May 7 ceremony in New York, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York were commemorated by the Kingdom of Cambodia Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Sok An for the return of the Duryodhana, a 10th century sandstone sculpture.

The return of the Duryodhana follows the settlement of a civil forfeiture action filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which alleged that the Duryodhana was stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in 1972 by an organized looting network, and ultimately imported into the United States and offered for sale by Sotheby’s Inc.

The settlement required Sotheby’s and the customer selling the Duryodhana, Decia Ruspoli de Poggia Suasa, to return the sculpture to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

According to an amended complaint filed in Manhattan federal court April 2013, and other documents filed in the case, from 928 to 944 A.D., Koh Ker was the capital of the ancient Khmer empire in Cambodia. The Khmer regime under Jayavarman IV constructed a vast complex of sacred monuments at Koh Ker, including the Prasat Chen temple and its statuary. These monuments have never been transferred to any private owner, and remain the property of the Cambodian state.

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City of Bronze

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A few weeks ago, I traveled through Cresco in northeast Iowa, a city which has, by my calculations, the most public art bronze statues per capita. You can’t go more than block without tripping over one.
I counted at least a half dozen on the main street that goes past the county courthouse. One park had no fewer than two (and a cool train display). There was one in front of the library and another at the fire station.
In all, the city has about 30 statues — funded through donations — and the welcome center has a complete list.
Above is a shot of the statue in front of the courthouse, also Justice, which is on the sidewalk near an attorney’s office, and a closeup of Justice’s feet.