Stolen horse-themed artifact seized ahead of auction

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A buff sandstone panel depicting the Hindu equestrian diety Revanta and his entourage is said to be worth $US300,000. Photos: US Immigration and Customs
A buff sandstone panel depicting the Hindu equestrian diety Revanta and his entourage is said to be worth $US300,000. Photos: US Immigration and Customs

Two stolen Indian antiquities, one depicting the equestrian deity, Revanta, have been seized by American authorities at Christie’s auction house in New York just days ahead of their intended sale.

The buff sandstone panel depicting Revanta and his entourage, which measures about 30 inches by 53 inches, dates from the 8th Century AD. It is said to worth about $US300,000. Revanta is a figure of great importance in Hinduism.

The second artifact, also in sandstone, depicts Rishabhanata. It dates from around the 10th century AD and is said to have originated from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh. Its value is put at about $US150,000.

Special agents with US Immigration and Customs, working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, seized the two statues on Friday.

Their seizure is the result of a US-led international investigation, with help from the government of India and Interpol.

The seizure comes just days before a planned March 15, 2016, auction of the items as part of the “Asia Week New York” festivities.

Rishabhanata depicted in sandstone. The work is said to be woth about $US150,000.
Rishabhanata depicted in sandstone. The work is said to be woth about $US150,000.

Christie’s had included the two artifacts in an auction entitled, “The Lahiri Collection: Indian and Himalayan Art, Ancient and Modern.”

According to the ongoing investigation, the sandstone statue of Rishbhanata appears to have been sold by an individual to a London-based firm between 2006 and 2007.

The panel of Revanta, according to images provided by the source dealer, appeared to have contained an “orphan fragment” – a piece perfectly broken off to be sold by the smugglers after the sale of the main part of the sculpture.

Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York, which is part of the Immigation and Customs Department, said the seizure sent two important messages.

“First and foremost, it demonstrates that we are committed to protecting cultural heritage around the world and second, it demonstrates that we are monitoring the market to protect prospective buyers as well.

Special agents with HSI were able to determine that both artifacts had come from a specific smuggler and supplier of illicit cultural property in India. HSI special agents have tracked many false provenances and this has been one of the pillars of Operation Hidden Idol – a four-year-old initiative focusing on activities surrounding the illicit cultural property trade in New York.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr said: “Every year, fine art collectors from around the world flock to New York for Asia Week, where they spent a reported $US360 million last year on Asian antiquities and art.

“With high demand from all corners of the globe, collectors must be certain of provenance before purchasing.

“I urge dealers and auction houses to take every necessary precaution to avoid facilitating the sale of cultural heritage stolen from other civilizations. If a provenance is in doubt, report it to law enforcement authorities.”

To date, HSI special agents, in conjunction with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, have netted more than 2500 artifacts worth over an estimated $US100 million. These artifacts stem from countries all around the world.

Since 2007, more than 8000 artifacts have been returned to 30 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

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