Five Egyptian antiquities seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art – ARTnews.com

Five Egyptian antiquities with a collective value of more than $3 million have been seized from the Metropolitan Museum by the New York District Attorney’s Office. The confiscation is part of a wide-ranging investigation into international trafficking in Egyptian antiquities that last week led to the indictment of former Louvre president and director Jean-Luc Martinez.

News of the seizure was first reported by the art diary and confirmed to the outlet by the prosecutor’s office, which said in its warrant that the five items constituted evidence showing “the crimes of criminal possession of stolen property” and “a conspiracy to commit the same crimes.”

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Four of the pieces came from the collection of Roben Dib, a German-Lebanese dealer suspected by US and French authorities of selling looted items to art institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Dib is currently being held in Paris, where he is awaiting trial for gang fraud and money laundering. He denied any wrongdoing.

Among the artifacts seized were two treasures from the Met’s Egyptian department. One is a resplendent portrait of the Fayoum, a painted panel usually placed over the faces of mummies in Roman Egypt. This work depicts a woman in a blue dress and dates from around 60 BCE.

The other work seized is made up of five fragments of a hanging wall from the 4th or 5th century AD. They are considered to be one of the oldest representations of the Book of Exodus.

A spokesperson for the Met did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the seizure of these works.

According to the warrant, the two objects were sold through the Parisian auction house Pierre Bergé & Associates, which employed Christophe Kunicki, a French dealer and expert in archeology indicted in the investigation. Kunicki served as an expert certifier of archaeological work at Pierre Bergé; he listed the provenance of the antiques sold at the Met as “a European collection”. Authorities believe it is the collection of three brothers, Simon, Hagop and Serop Simonian, suspected of collaborating with Dib.

The Met has been grappling with its ties to Dib for several years.

In 2019, the New York institution returned an ornate golden sarcophagus to Egypt after a criminal investigation led by Col. Matthew Bogdanos, head of the prosecutor’s office antiquities trafficking unit. Bogdanos concluded that the provenance had been tampered with before he was bought by the Met in 2017 for 3.5 million euros. The Met had purchased the sarcophagus directly from Kunicki, who had obtained it from Dib and the Simonian brothers. Kunicki and her husband, Richard Semper, were charged in 2020 with involvement in the antiquities smuggling ring.

At the time of the seizure of the coffin, the Met apologized in a statement for flaws in the provenance research conducted by its Egyptian department and promised to reassess its acquisition process.

The Exodus painted linen wall hanging and the Fayoum portrait were purchased for $1.4 million and $1.6 million, respectively, between 2013 and 2015. During this period, the museum also purchased a stele in limestone (dated to 1770 BCE) for approximately $266,000 and a stele (c. 650 BCE) depicting an offering table to the god Hathor for approximately $85,000.

A sarcophagus mask worth around $6,500 was also confiscated by the prosecutor’s office. According the arts journalall items have been offered for sale by Dib.

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