From top to bottom: a fresco, larnax, death mask, and Stag Head Rhyton. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
Michael Steinhardt, a billionaire investor and antiquities collector, agreed to hand over 180 stolen relics worth a total of US$70 million on Tuesday (December 7). Steinhardt, who amassed one of the world’s most extensive collections of ancient art, also agreed to a lifetime ban on purchasing antiquities. According to a press release, Steinhardt was being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit. The team examined over 1,000 items he had acquired over the course of more than 30 years and discovered that he was in possession of stolen artifacts smuggled out of 11 countries by 12 different criminal networks.
The Ercolano Fresco of the infant Hercules slaying a serpent. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
“Steinhardt viewed these precious artifacts as simple commodities — things to collect and own,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York Ricky J. Patel in a statement. “He failed to recognize that these treasures represent the heritage of the cultures from which these items were looted, often during times of strife and unrest.” Steinhardt’s investigation began in 2017 after prosecutors discovered that he had purchased a statue looted from Lebanon during its civil war and loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to CNN. More questions were raised after an investigation into his background, which resulted in the formation of a joint investigation involving investigators from 11 countries, including Egypt, Greece, Iraq, and Syria.
A golden bowl from Iraq. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
The Stag’s Head Rhyton, a ceremonial vessel valued at US$3.5 million; the Larnax, a small chest for human remains valued at US$1 million; and a trio of death masks dating back to 7000 BCE valued at US$650,000 are among Steinhardt’s seized treasures. He will not face any charges if he follows all of the terms of the agreement. The District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., has stated that the items must be returned to their rightful owners as soon as possible. Steinhardt’s lawyer stated that the collector is relieved that no charges have been filed. Steinhardt has one of the world’s most important antiquities collections. Among the artists in his collection are Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso. He and his wife are honored with a gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s ancient Greek art wing.
A larnax, or a container for human remains, from Crete. Image: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
Other looted items from all over the world according to the Guardian, an ancient Hindu goddess sculpture stolen from a temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Banda district and trafficked for sale in London in the 1980s will now be returned to its rightful home in India. Christopher Marinello, a lawyer and art restitution expert based in London, assisted in the recovery. Marinello was assisted in retrieving the piece by Vijay Kumar, a specialist in recovering Indian cultural objects. The two collaborated with the Indian Archaeological Survey, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, and the Metropolitan Police in London.