The Leon Levy and Shelby White court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (photo Larry Syverson, viaFlickr)

Twenty-three looted antiquities recovered by the Manhattan District Attorney’s (DA) Office in recent months were seized from the Midtown East home of Shelby White, a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The revelation was reported by the Art Newspaper and confirmed in warrants provided by the DA’s Office and reviewed by Hyperallergic.

The DA’s Office issued two search warrants for the works, one in June 2021 for five objects and one in April 2022 for 18 objects. Some of those pieces have already been repatriated, including the return of a third-century CE statue valued at $15 million to Turkey and an eighth-century BCE amphora to Italy.

White’s antiquities collection has been scrutinized for decades, but she remains a prominent donor in the art world. The Leon Levy Foundation (named for her late husband) has distributed over $500 million in grants to a range of causes since its founding in 2004, with some recipients including the Brooklyn Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. Hyperallergic was unable to reach White for comment.

A section of an Anatolian columned sarcophagus dated 170-180 CE taken from White’s collection

In 2006, White gave $200 million to NYU to found its Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, a donation that prompted criticism over White’s collection practices, with one anthropology professor resigning.

White also donated $20 million to The Met, another gift that elicited backlash, but in April 2007, the museum named its pillared Hellenistic and Ancient Roman art gallery for Leon Levy and Shelby White. White’s collection also went on view at the museum in a 1990 exhibition titled Glories of the Past collection.

The Met declined to comment on the DA’s recent seizure of objects from White’s collection.

Amidst public outcry, White has also been forced to repatriate parts of her collection: In 2008, she returned 10 objects back to Italy and two to Greece. In the last year, the Manhattan DA’s Art Trafficking Unit has seized dozens of objects from individuals and institutions, including The Met.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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