Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New York Observer on Medici Poloroids

Michael Miller has commented on "self-appointed looting watchdog" David Gill's use of the Medici Polaroids in the New York Observer. See His article discusses the difficulties in researching "provenance information" even for rather valuable artifacts. Predictably, David Gill has critiqued the article. See

Yet, Gill has yet to fully disclose the circumstances behind his own access to the Polaroids, which are only partly available to the public.

As I asked in a recent blog, "Is Gill acting as an undisclosed agent of the Italian Cultural Bureaucracy or as some sort of Internet cultural property vigilante?"

That in many ways is more interesting than whether particular pieces in an auction were pictured in the Medici trove or not.

Addendum, dated June 3, 2010

This note from a well-placed "Cultural Property Observer" explains what is not commonly known about the "Medici Poloroids."


It was good to speak with you today about your email of last week concerning the Polaroids posted by David Gill.

First, let's review the history. In September, 1995 the Swiss police raided four warehouses in the Geneva Free Port and seized several hundred antiquities. The warehouses were leased by a Swiss company, Editions Services ("ES"), which was traced to Giacomo Medici. Two sets of Polaroids were seized from the warehouse. The first set ("Group 1") were images of recently-excavated objects. The second set ("Group 2") were images of cleaned objects being offered for sale by ES. In addition, the Caribinieri took their own set of photographs of all of the objects in the warehouses ("Group 3").

In January 1997, the Carabinieri arrested Medici. According to the Carabinieri the warehouses contained 10,000 artifacts. This figure was exaggerated. The Group 1 images were the core of the Italian case against Medici and probably amounted to about 500 objects. The Group 2 images were a mix of objects represented in Group 1 plus objects that were purchased by ES on the market. Remember, ES was in the first instance a trading company which purchased and sold objects on the market and most of these objects were never connected to the Group 1 images. The Group 3 images were mostly of objects already represented in Groups 1 and 2.

The Italian Caribinieri posted a number of images from Groups 1 and 2 (about 150 in total) on their website in 1998. All of the images were removed from the website in late 2000 or early 2001. A number of institutions created archives of these images. Unfortunately, I don't think the Art Loss Register was one of these! Therefore, it is possible that David Gill and others were given copies of the Polaroids or downloaded the images from the website. Some of the images were posted to the AIA's website in 1998 at

It would be useful to have all of the images in a public database, but this is an unlikely while they remain the gift that keeps on giving to the Italian prosecutor's office.

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