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Dodgy dealers, curators and collectors named in the Marion True trial in Rome

The latest in the trial of former Getty antiquities curator, Marion True, and the Paris-based dealer Robert Hech both charged with conspiring to receive illegally excavated antiquities

The latest hearing took place in Rome on 24 October.

The sitting began with depositions from the interrogations in June and October 2006 of Ms True by the prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri together with the archeological consultant, Daniela Rizzo. This was not to take the place of live court testimony, said Francesco Isolabella, Ms True’s defence lawyer, but was to facilitate and speed up procedures. Ms Rizzo’s collaboration with prosecutor Ferri was an investigation of the links between the interests of the various people involved in trafficking antiquities out of Italy.

More information emerged on the relationship between Mr Hecht and a Swiss restorer, Fritz Burki. When Mr Hecht’s house was searched in 2001, two almost identical letters to Mr Burki were found, dated one day apart, concerning a Pompeian fresco stolen in 1995, which Mr Hecht said he had seen at Mr Burki’s premises in 1979 (first letter) or 1975 (second letter). These letters could be interpreted as an attempt to legitimise the stolen fresco by involving Mr Burki.

Ms Rizzo produced evidence for the relationship between dealers Giacomo Medici (the dealer found guilty in Italy in 2004 of selling looted antiquities but who remains free pending appeal) and Mr Hecht and Mr Burki (the highly skilled restorer of the Euphronios vase, which Mr Hecht sold to the Metropolitan Museum in 1972 and which will be given back to Italy in January 2008). Mr Burki also enjoyed a similarly confidential relationship with Gianfranco Becchina, who dealt in illegally excavated antiquities at his gallery, Antike Kunst Palladion, in Basel.

Mr Becchina, through whose hands a large quantity of goods passed, had connections with some of the leading scholars and curators around the world, such as the late Jiri Frel of the Getty Museum, Arielle Kozloff at the Cleveland Museum (later at the Merrin Gallery, New York), John Hermann of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and others. Ms Kozloff, wife of Mr Hermann, not only researched the Fleischmann Collection, but also sold pieces to the Fleischmanns, who then sold and gave parts of their collection to the Getty between 1992 and 1996.

Ms Rizzo’s list of names included those of various distinguished academics such as Arthur Dale Trendall and Konrad Schauenburg, who attributed pieces for Mr Becchina’s gallery. Ms Rizzo went on to describe trade, authentication certificates and gifts between the dealers Mr Becchina, Medici and Robin Symes, and the curators Robert Guy of Princeton Art Museum, Dietrich von Bothmer of the Metropolitan, and his successor Carlos Picon. In a letter of 1985 from Mr Guy to Mr von Bothmer, the former uses the tombarolo (Italian tomb robber) term “orfanelli” in reference to fragments of an amphora by the so-called “Berlin Painter”, now being returned to Italy by the Metropolitan Museum. Ms Rizzo singled out the Etruscan specialist Mauro Cristofani for having refused to become involved in the network.

The deposition proceeded with details of items and documents seized in 2003 from the restorer Rodolfo Giovinazzo and Fiorella Cottier Angeli. Strong links developed between Ms Cottier Angeli, who was an official with Swiss customs, Medici and Mr Becchina. Several Etruscan pieces shown in photographs, appearing broken, dirty with soil and clearly recently looted, that were seized from Mr Medici, were later found in Ms Cottier Angeli’s possession. These included a seventh-century BC double-collared vase with two sea horses, that in the Medici photograph has the typical hole made by the probing stick used by tombaroli to find tombs.

Ms Rizzo also mentioned the damning evidence of backdated bills used to launder antiquities, providing them with artificial pedigrees. These discoveries prompted Ms Rizzo and Mr Ferri to go to Los Angeles and New York in 2004 and brought about the seizure of all of Mr Becchina’s papers.

The court then heard about Mr Becchina’s relationship with the tomb robber Mario Bruno, first in association with Mr Medici in trafficking Etruscan material, then with Raffaele Monticelli, with whom Mr Becchina was involved in importing illicit material from southern Italy. Mr Becchina was also linked with Jiri Frel, Marion True and Arthur Houghton, all from the Getty, who acquired pieces from him. The next hearing will be on 14 December.

Corrections

In the December 2007 issue of The Art Newspaper, serious errors concerning Ms Arielle Kozloff, the former curator of ancient art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, appeared in an article concerning the trial of Marion True.

Contrary to the statements and implications made in that article, Arielle Kozloff was never married to John Herrmann, whose former wife has a similar first name. Ms Kozloff never sold any works of art to anyone while employed as a curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art and never sold any works of art to the Fleischman collection either during her tenure as curator or thereafter. Ms Kozloff has never been accused of any wrongdoing or impropriety in this or any other regard in the Marion True case or elsewhere and has never been employed by the Getty Museum. The Art Newspaper deeply regrets these errors and apologises to Ms Kozloff and her family for the embarrassment and damage caused to her professional reputation resulting therefrom.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Dodgy dealers, curators and collectors named'