Seizure of Looted Antiquities from Billionaire’s Home

Investigators seized looted antiquities from the home of hedge fund manager and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt in early January. Having collected antiquities for three decades, Steinhardt is considered “one of the most prolific American buyers of ancient art.” He is a dedicated supporter of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which named one of its Greek art galleries the Judy and Michael H. Steinhardt Gallery. In this seizure, at least nine items were taken from his private collection, including a terra-cotta flask from the fourth century B.C. and Proto-Corinthian figures from the seventh century B.C. According to the search warrants, these pieces were purchased within the last 12 years for a total cost of $1.1 million and there is a possible charge of possession of stolen property.

 

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., formed an antiquities-trafficking bureau last year, comprising of a team of lawyers and antiquities trafficking analysts. The seizure from Steinhardt’s collection is the latest in a chain of efforts by Vance to repatriate stolen antiquities found in New York City. Recent repatriations include three ancient sculptures to Lebanon, a mosaic from one of Caligulia’s ships that was seized from the apartment of an antiquities dealer to Italy, and a Buddhist sculpture to Pakistan. For these seizures and repatriations, Vance has relied on a state law that allows prosecutors to return stolen property to its owner. While many have lauded his aggressive efforts in this area, collectors have argued that civil courts are a more appropriate forum for handling such disputes.

 

Issues of provenance are complex for antiquities due to the objects’ extensive ownership history and frequent holes in documentation of such past ownership. Given the recent string of seizures led by Vance, collectors may be cautioned to make their future purchases from reputable dealers only after thorough due diligence.


Benjamin Sutton, “The Met Museum Hands Over Another Antiquity Believed to be Stolen,” Hyperallergic (Aug. 3, 2017) https://hyperallergic.com/393978/the-met-museum-hands-over-another-antiquity-believed-to-be-stolen/

Carrie Coolidge, “Ancient History For Sale,” Forbes (Dec. 29, 2006), https://www.forbes.com/2006/12/29/antiquities-collectors-steinhardt-biz-cz_cc_1229antiquity.html#584a4e16dc2c

Christian Berthelsen and Katya Kazakina, “Hex of the Idol: Steinhardt, Christie’s Fight Heritage Claim,” Bloomberg (Aug. 18, 2017), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-18/hex-of-the-idol-steinhardt-christie-s-fight-heritage-claim

Colleen Long and Verena Dobnik, “Prosecutors Become Treasure Hunters in Repatriation Campaign,” Chicago Tribune (Dec. 17, 2017), http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-bc-us–looted-antiquities-20171217-story.html

James C. McKinley Jr., “Looted Antiquities Seized From Billionaire’s Home, Prosecutors Say,” N.Y. Times (Jan. 5, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/05/nyregion/antiques-seized-from-billionaire-michael-steinhardt-cyrus-vance.html?_r=0

Henri Neuendorf, “Investigators Seize (More) Antiques From Hedge-Fund Billionaire Michael Steinhardt’s Collection,” Artnet News (Jan. 8, 2018), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/michael-steinhardt-antiques-seized-1194269