Man repatriates 19 antiques after reading Guardian article | Inheritance

An American has returned 19 antiquities to the four countries they came from after reading articles in the Guardian about the repatriation of looted antiquities.

John Gomperts, who lives in Washington, realized that ancient pieces worth up to £80,000 – including two Cypriot vases from the 7th and 8th centuries – which he had inherited from his grandmother could come from illicit excavations because they have no collection history.

He wanted to do the right thing legally and ethically by returning the items to Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Pakistan respectively. After an agreement with his two siblings, he returned them.

He said: “It seemed like the right thing to do… I read stories about repatriation and thought: we have these pieces that are 2,500 years old from other countries; we should explore if we can return them.

But not knowing how to repatriate the antiquities, he initially feared getting in trouble with the authorities for potentially looting the artifacts in his possession.

In these Guardian reports, he noticed that Professor Christos Tsirogiannis, a former senior field archaeologist at the University of Cambridge and specialist in antiquities and trafficking networks, had been quoted, and so he contacted him for tips.

Based in Cambridge, Tsirogiannis is the Head of Research on Illicit Antiquities Trafficking at the Ionian University in Corfu, Greece. In 15 years, he has identified more than 1,600 objects looted from auction houses, commercial galleries, private collections and museums, alerting law enforcement authorities and governments and playing an important role in the repatriation of antiquities.

They include an ancient Greek bronze horse, which Sotheby’s in New York was to sell in 2018 until Tsirogiannis informed authorities of his links to a disgraced British antiquities dealer. In 2020, Sotheby’s lost its legal challenge, and Greece’s culture minister hailed the court’s decision as an important victory for countries fighting to recover antiquities.

Tsirogiannis said Gomperts was setting an extraordinary example. “He contacted me, which is a first for an owner of antiquities with no provenance, asking me for advice on doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s a wonderful case of someone doing this because they read the Guardian stories. It shows how these publications raise awareness and bring concrete results. He sent me photos of the antiques, which were clearly authentic.

He identified each antiquity, indicating the country to which it should be returned. “Twelve objects belong to Greece, four to Italy, one to Pakistan and two to Cyprus. I advised him to return them,” he said.

“I told him, ‘If you follow my advice, you won’t have any problems and you will also become an example for others to follow. You pack them in a box for each country and go to their embassies. Please use my name – it will protect you. The most honest way is the direct way.

The objects included two 4th-century ceramic plates decorated with acrobats by painters from southern Italy – an “unusual subject”, he said – a lebes gamikosa 4th-century vase used in ancient Greek wedding ceremonies and a stone relief fragment depicting the disciples of Buddha, carved in the 2nd or 3rd century.

Plates depicting acrobats. Photography: Christos Tsirogiannis/handout

Gomperts is an advisor to non-profit organizations. His German-Dutch grandmother Gisela Schneider-Herrmann died in 1992, aged 98. She participated in various excavations, notably in Italy and Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, and published scientific articles.

Her grandson said: “I have no idea how she acquired these items. He was an upright and decent person. But there were different standards of the day. These objects were his obsession, his whole existence.

A few items came with receipts, but Tsirogiannis realized their connections to known Greek dealers in illicit antiquities in the 1950s and 1960s. “So that alerted me even more to him repatriating them immediately. “, did he declare.

Gomperts said: “I knocked on the doors of the embassy and said, ‘I have a delivery.’ I said, ‘I want to repatriate these things.’ »

The countries showed their appreciation, with thank you notes to Gomperts and Tsirogiannis.

Tsirogiannis said, “This case will show others who want to do something that they can be protected when they do the right thing.”

About Margaret L. Portillo

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