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The Met Forfeits Yet Another Possibly Stolen Artwork

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 7 August 2017
Just last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art relinquished an ancient Greek vase dated circa 350 B.C. after evidence suggested it was looted by grave robbers. Coincidentally, the vase may be the second stolen item in the museum’s collection, as the Met forfeits yet another ancient sculpture to the Manhattan district attorney after a curator discovered that it may have been stolen from a Lebanese warehouse.

It’s been a tumultuous month for the Met, as news breaks that yet another artwork has found its way out of the museum and into the District Attorney’s office.

Marble column from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis | Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Marble column from the Temple of Artemis at Sardis in the Met’s Greek and Roman Art galleries | Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

This time, the object in question is a marble sculpture of a bull’s head, also approximately 2,300 years old with probable Greek origins, and displayed in the museum’s Greek and Roman Art galleries. The relic was supposedly discovered in 1967 during an excavation of the Lebanese Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, and subsequently warehoused in Byblos, which was known to be looted during Lebanon’s civil war.

“Upon a Met curator’s discovery that this item on loan may have been stolen from government storage during the Lebanese civil war, the Museum took immediate action,” the Met’s chief communications officer, Kenneth Weine, said in a statement. “We contacted the Lebanese government and the lender, we took the item off display, and we have been working with federal and state authorities.”

On July 6, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance issued a warrant for the sculpture, which the museum has since relinquished.

According to The New York Times, the artifact was purchased in 1996 by William and Lynda Beierwaltes, who paid over one million dollars for it in London. In 2010, the couple sold it to collector Michael H. Steinhardt, who lent it to the Met that same year. The object has since been on display at the museum, “but after learning that Lebanon was disputing its provenance, Steinhardt asked the Beierwaltes to take it back and compensate him.”

The Beierwaltes, who now consider themselves to be the sculpture’s rightful owners, are suing both the Lebanese Ministry of Culture and the Manhattan District Attorney on the basis that there isn’t enough evidence to substantiate the case.

“The Beierwaltes are bona fide purchasers with clean hands,” William G. Pearlstein, the Beierwaltes’ lawyer, told The New York Times. “By contrast, for more than 50 years, Lebanon has failed [to] take any action domestically or internationally to report any theft of the bull’s head.”

For now, the artifact remains in the DA’s custody.