New York officials for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office have seized an Ancient Roman statue from the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts as part of an investigation into looted antiquities from the territory of what is now Turkey. The museum ceded Portrait of a Lady (A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?) “after receiving new information about the object’s history of ownership”, according to a statement.
The statue, acquired by the institution in 1966 and valued at $5m, is the second artefact dating from the second century AD recently removed from an institution outside of New York by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit. In August, Bragg's team seized a statue believed to depict Marcus Aurelius himself (valued at $20m) from the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio. The headless bronze statue will be transported to New York this month.
A representative from the DA’s office said in a statement that the seizure of the sculptures from both Massachusetts and Ohio was part of “an active criminal investigation into a smuggling network involving antiquities looted from Turkey and trafficked through Manhattan”.
The Worcester Art Museum holds that it had not received any claims about the statue before it was served with a warrant in June. “Based on the new evidence that was provided,” the museum’s statement reads, staffers had determined “that the bronze was likely stolen and improperly imported”, further citing that, at the time of its acquisition, the museum had “conducted its own research”, but now “acquires objects with greater diligence”.
In a statement to The New York Times, Matthias Waschek, the Worcester Art Museum's director, noted: “The ethical standards applicable to museums are much changed since the 1960s, and the museum is committed to managing its collection consistent with modern ethical standards.”
According to art historians, Portrait of a Lady consists of two constituent parts—the head and the draped shoulders—likely created by different sculptors and “paired in antiquity” to create a single bust. The bust is believed to have been stolen from a large family shrine, and to be a life-size representation of an daughter of either Marcus Aurelius or Septimius Severus.
The Antiquities Trafficking Unit has seized yet another artefact that was stolen from what is now Turkey from the the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art in the Bronx. The sculpture, Young Caracalla Head, depicts the bloodthirsty third-century AD Roman emperor and is valued at $750,000.
During Bragg’s tenure, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit has returned thousands of pieces to dozens of countries, valued collectively at more than $240m.