The Manhattan District Attorney’s (DA) office announced yesterday, March 22, that it had returned 12 looted antiquities to Turkey. Some of those objects were housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which faced scrutiny this week after a report showed that over 1,000 objects in its collection once belonged to people who have been accused of or convicted of antiquities crimes.
Three of the recently repatriated objects were recovered during ongoing investigations tracing looted antiquities from two looted archaeological sites in Turkey — Perge and Bubon. Turkish villagers found the latter site — an unexcavated Ancient Roman location — in 1967. Before Turkish authorities arrived, however, a pair of brothers looted the antiquities, sold them to a dealer, and soon after, objects from Bubon arrived in the collection of American coin dealer Charles Lipson.
As scholar Elizabeth Marlowe noted in a 2022 Hyperallergic opinion piece, The Met was in possession of two antiquities linked to the illegally looted Bubon site: a bronze depiction of Emperor Caracalla (c. 211–217 CE) and a bronze statue of an unnamed man, a vague description which Marlowe interprets as an intentional obfuscation of the sculpture’s dubious origins.
“The Metropolitan Museum of Art displays two pieces associated with Bubon, but avoids connecting them to each other lest this raises questions about their respective paths to the museum,” Marlowe wrote.
“In this label, the museum not only pretends to know far less than they actually do, but deliberately misleads the public,” she concludes later in the piece. “This display at our nation’s most esteemed museum is, effectively, a laundering operation.”
The bronze statue, determined by the DA to be 225 CE depiction of emperor Septimius Severus, was in Lipson’s collection and eventually found its way into The Met through a 2011 loan, after a stint at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was seized by the DA in February. The Met did not respond to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.
The other nine repatriated works were recovered from Met trustee Shelby White, whose antiquities collection was subject to a criminal investigation that culminated in the seizure of 89 objects valued at a staggering $69 million.
“It sends a clear and strong message to all smugglers, dealers and collectors that illegal purchase, possession and sale of cultural artifacts will have consequences,” Turkish Consul General Reyhan Özgür said at the March 22 repatriation ceremony. According to Özgür, the country has recovered 1,203 objects since 2022, but earlier this month, a New York court ruled that Turkey could not recover the 6,000-year-old “Guennol Stargazer” because it waited too long to ask for its return.