Stolen 18th Century Art Returned to Peru


     MANHATTAN (CN) – Six years after looters stole them from a church in downtown Lima, federal prosecutors returned “The Resurrection of Lazarus” and eight other religious paintings by the 18th century artist Miguel Cabrera to Peruvian officials, at a ceremony on Friday.
     Two burglaries denuded the La Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales (“House of Spiritual Exercises”) in downtown Lima of 78 paintings and objects in May and July 2008, the Embassy of Peru reported at the time.
     Harold Forsyth, the ambassador of Peru to the United States, described that church as a Franciscan order where priests gathered to pray. The site may not have been open to the public, he added.
     Among those works were nine oil-on-canvas paintings by Cabrera, who is considered one of the most important painters of his time in New Spain, an area that included Mexico and parts of Central America.
     U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stood in front of the most prominent of these, “The Resurrection of Lazarus,” at a press conference held at the Justice Department’s headquarters at 1 St. Andrews Plaza announcing its repatriation to Peru.
     Calling this work “one of the finest examples of Cabrera’s talent,” Bharara noted that it depicts Christ in a blue tunic with his arms outstretched “bringing Lazarus back to life four days after his death, to the astonishment of onlookers.”
     In October 2008, a man named Brian Bates, who was living in Santiago, Chile, consigned the work to an unspecified New York auction house, where the FBI seized it on Feb. 18 this year, according to the forfeiture order.
     A Google search of that name and address leads to the Facebook page of the Santiago-based company, “Brian Bates Antiguedades,” the Spanish word for “antiquities.”
     There was no contact information available on that site, and it is unclear whether the antiquities company is the same Brian Bates.
     Denying any knowledge that the painting was stolen, Bates said that he cooperated fully with the authorities, the order states.
     The other eight paintings fell into the possession of Sheldon Fish in Lima, who consigned them to an auction house in Cedar Falls, Iowa in December 2008, a separate forfeiture order states.
     Fish also denied knowing that the works had been reported stolen, and the FBI seized them the following month, according to the order.
     Although nobody has been arrested, the investigation is continuing, Bharara said.
     The international trafficking of looted artworks and artifacts is “a growing criminal enterprise with estimated losses in the billions of dollars annually,” George Venizelos, the FBI’s assistant director of the New York field office, said at the conference.
     Ambassador Forsyth said that Peru’s rich cultural and historical heritage require particular protection.
     “Our heritage of Peru comprises of all the tangible and intangible objects, for its historical value, archeological, artistic, architectural, paleontological, ethnological, documentary, bibliographic, scientific, and anything relevant to the identity and permanence of the nation through time and space,” Forsyth said. “Those objects require special professional defense, so they can be enjoyed, valued and properly used by all citizens and passed on for generations.”

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