MANHATTAN (CN) – Federal prosecutors have seized two 1,500-year-old artworks, allegedly consigned to Christie’s by a man or business that lied about their origin. The “Byzantine Bronze Polycandelon circa 6th Century AD” and “Byzantine Marble & Glass Mosaic circa 5th-6th Century AD” were smuggled out of Turkey and Yugoslavia, the government says.
The artworks were listed for sale by consignment at Christie’s June 8, 2007 auction. The consignor allegedly was Advanced Technology Corp. Ltd., “an investment company located in Surrey, England, that had been buying Byzantine works of art over the last fifteen years and was thinking of selling off its stock. AITCO and James Denney of AITCO were identified as the consignors of the defendants in rem,” according to the complaint. “Denney informed the Christie’s representatives that the defendants in rem were from the ‘Weismann Collection.'”
Denney allegedly showed Christie’s papers of provenance, signed by the objects’ alleged owner, Arthur Martijn Brand, of Amsterdam.
But, according to the complaint, Brand later told English officials that he had cooked up bogus documents for the pieces, “to facilitate their importation into the United States for auction at Christie’s. Brand said that ‘Wiesemann’ was the name of his family’s art and antiquities collection, and that he had allowed AITCO to represent that the defendants in rem were part of that collection when if fact they were not.”
Brand said that the Polycandelon was not from Turkey, as represented, but had been smuggled out of Yugoslavia in pieces in 2003 or 2004 “and reassembled in the London metropolitan area. Brand said that the Mosaic Panel was part of a larger mosaic piece and had been smuggled out of Turkey in approximately 2001 or 2002.”
U.S. Customs agents seized the art in April. The government estimates that the polycandelon is worth $75,000 and the mosaic $125,000.