Manhattan DA to seize Hindu artifact looted from Met Museum

A 6th-century Hindu artifact is the latest item seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Mother Goddess (Matrika)” (mid-6th century), India (Rajasthan, Tanesara), gray schist, 24 1/2 inches x 9 inches (all images via Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Another looted object is about to be seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: this Tuesday, August 30, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DA) issued a search warrant for a 6th century Indian statue depicting a Hindu deity Matrika. The statue, worth $300,000, was a gift to the museum in 1993 from collectors Florence and Herbert Irving.

This summer, the museum turned over 21 ancient Greek and Roman artifacts to the Manhattan DA in response to a July 11 search warrant, as reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) this week. These looted antiquities included a marble head of athena (valued at $3 million), a Terracotta Kylix ($1.5 million) and a marble head of a young horned (also $1.5 million). The DA estimated the total value of the objects at over $11 million.

Regarding the seizure of these artifacts, Kenneth Weine, the museum’s communications manager, told Hyperallergic, “The Metropolitan Museum of Art has fully supported the investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the return of these artifacts to Italy, based on information recently made available to the Met. The Met has a long and well-documented history of responding to complaints about works of art, returning objects when appropriate, being transparent about the provenance of works in the collection and to support further research and scholarship.

Affidavits substantiating these two most recent search warrants are sealed, making it unclear whether any of the items are associated with the alleged antiquities trafficking ring that has dominated headlines in recent months.

The Met’s ‘Marble Head of Athena’ (circa 200 BC) was one of 21 items listed in the July search warrant. The DA appraised the head at $3 million.
A terracotta kylix (circa 470 BCE) worth $1.5 million was seized from the Met in July.
The ancient Roman “bronze statuette of Jupiter” (second half of the 2nd century AD) was another antiquity listed in the July search warrant.

Antiques illegally traded by this criminal network – investigated largely by the Manhattan DA Art Trafficking Unit – have appeared at the Met in the past. In May, the Manhattan DA seized $3 million worth of Egyptian antiquities looted from the museum, and in 2019 the Met was forced to return an ancient treasured Egyptian gold coffin after it was revealed he had been tampered with by high-level smugglers.

As investigators uncover scope of smuggling operation, former Louvre president was charged with antiquities trafficking in May, two of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s top collections advisors were arrested in July over the acquisition by the museum of stolen Egyptian artifacts, and in August the Manhattan DA issued an arrest warrant for its own former art traffic informant.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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