The US government has ordered Kim Kardashian West to forfeit an ancient Roman statue that authorities believed was “looted, smuggled, and illegally exported from Italy.”
Under UNESCO rules, items of historical or cultural importance found after 1970 can’t be exported from their countries of origin without special permission. According to the Italian government, no one reported finding the statue or applied for a licence before the statue, Fragment of Myron’s Samian Athena, left the country.
The artwork, which dates to the 1st or 2nd century AD, had a long and winding journey before it reached the celebrity influencer. It reportedly passed from an English estate to a German auction house to a gallery in Paris then finally another in Belgium, which sold the statue to Ms Kardashian West in 2016. There’s no suggestion from authorities she was aware of the statue’s origins.
Representatives for Ms Kardashian West did not respond to a request for comment.
US Customs authorities impounded the statue in 2016 when it arrived in Los Angeles as part of a $745,882.00 shipment of art and other objects, and further examination revealed irregularities in the history of the work’s provenance.
One statement suggested Belgian art dealer and designer Alex Vervoordt, a friend of the West family, had purchased the work from Paris’s Galerie Chenel in 2012, who had acquired the statue from an “Old German Collection, bought before 1980”.
“We have acquired this piece in good faith from a French gallery who had also acquired it in equally good faith from a German auction house,” Anne-Sophie Dusselier, from the Axel Vervoordt gallery, told The Independent. “The former collector was English but precise traces seem to stop there. However, there is no evidence that this piece was illegally imported from Italy. Our client, as well as our gallery and the gallery from whom we’ve bought the piece have always acted in good faith when dealing with the work.”
Galerie Chenel, for its part, says the statue was acquired legally from HAMPEL Fine Art Auctions, a Munich auction house, in 2010, which had purchased the statue from an English estate. Meanwhile, Masterpiece International, a customs broker which shipped the statue, at first claimed the statue was not from Italy, but inadvertently showed authorities handwritten notes suggesting it was.
Galerie Chenel, Masterpiece International, and HAMPEL have not responded to requests for comment from The Independent.
Once suspicions had been raised, Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage sent an archaeologist in 2018 to examine the work, who concluded it was “looted, smuggled, and illegally exported from Italy.” The country has asked for the work to be repatriated.
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