Lebanon News

Decades on, stolen antiquity to be returned

The bull's head is set to be repatriated in the coming weeks. (The Daily Star/Culture Ministry, HO)

BEIRUT: An ancient carved bull’s head stolen from Sidon during the Civil War will soon return to Lebanon after several months of legal hurdles and contested ownership. “The piece was stolen from a deposit in Byblos during the war, and we are extremely thankful for all of the American authorities and lawyers who helped us bring the antiquity back to Lebanon,” Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury told The Daily Star.

“When it returns, it will be exhibited in the National Museum.”

The marble bull’s head made waves in August when the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art released custody of the object to the New York District Attorney following concerns that the antiquity had been stolen.

At the time, the bull’s head was at the Met under a loan from high-end art collector Michael H. Steinhardt.

According to the New York Times, Steinhardt had purchased the antiquity in 2010 from Lynda and William Beierwaltes – high-end art collectors from Colorado.

The NYT report added that the Beierwaltes had purchased the item in 1996 from an art dealer in London for over $1 million.

In light of new information on the object’s origins, Steinhardt requested a return and refund from the couple, prompting the Beierwaltes to sue the Directorate General of Antiquities in Lebanon and Manhattan District Attorney.

The couple, represented by William Pearlstein – a New York-based lawyer specializing in the art market – argued at the time that neither the DGA in Lebanon nor the Met Museum had shown sufficient proof that the antiquity was stolen.

Matthew Bogdanos, Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, independently representing the interests of the antiquity argued otherwise. A colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, Bogdanos led an investigation on the looting of Iraq’s National Museum while on duty.

A modern-day Indiana Jones of sorts, Bogdanos’s efforts led to the recovery of over 8,000 artifacts.

His extensive investigation into the bull’s head history proved it was, in fact, stolen.

In an Application for a Turnover Order submitted to the Supreme Court of New York in September, Bogdanos said that the antiquity was excavated on July 8, 1967, from the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon.

In December 1979, the Bull’s Head was then moved to the Byblos Citadel along with a host of other antiquities as a protective measure during the Civil War.

Bogdanos’s investigation found that pieces were then stolen by Kataeb fighters in August 1981.

Saleem Abi al-Lameh, the chief-of-staff for the tourism minister at the time met with Kataeb local leader Isaam Khouri to negotiate the return of artifacts. Some were returned about a week later.

The Kataeb party could not be reached for comment before publication. “The art world must acknowledge that stolen antiquities are not simply collectible commercial property, but evidence of cultural crimes committed around the world,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said in a statement sent to The Daily Star.

“Galleries, auction houses, museums, and individual collectors must be willing to conduct proper due diligence to ensure that an item has not been unlawfully required.”

In light of the findings, the couple dropped their suit Wednesday.

“After having been presented with incontrovertible evidence that the bull’s head was stolen from Lebanon, the Beierwaltes believed it was in everyone’s best interest to withdraw their claim to the Bull’s Head and allow its repatriation to Lebanon,” Pearlstein said according to a statement sent to The Daily Star.

The marble sculpture is slated to make its homecoming within the next two weeks.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 13, 2017, on page 2.

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