An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Top Art Galleries Selling Ancient Indian Statues Worth Millions Busted in NY

 

A marble statue of Shiva and Parvati (8th Century) sitting on tiger skin, originating from Afghanistan was seized by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) officials from a gallery on East 67th Street in Manhattan – owned by Leonardo Vigorelli – who is the owner of Milan-based Dalton Somare’ art gallery.

Top Art Galleries Selling Ancient Indian Statues Worth Millions Busted in NY #Hinduism Click To Tweet
2 HSI officers with the 8th century marble sculture - Courtesy: New York Times (Tina Fineberg)
2 HSI officers with the 8th century marble sculture – Courtesy: New York Times (Tina Fineberg)

Interestingly, this has been a busy week as on March 11th they had seized two sculptures from Christie’s.  Christie’s scultures included:

  • A Buff Sandstone Stele of Rishabhanata, from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, India, in the 10th century A.D, approximately 22 3/8 inches high, and depicting a stele carved with the first Jain Tirthankara (a teacher who preaches dharma) seated in vajrasana (crossed leg pose) and flanked by a pair of standing attendants, and valued at approximately $150,000.
  • A Buff Sandstone Panel Depicting Revanta and His Entourage, from India, in the 8th Century A.D., approximately 30 by 53 inches, depicting a very rare representation of the equestrian deity, Revanta, a figure of great importance in Hinduism, and valued at approximately $300,000.
Buff Sandstone Stele of Rishabhanata - 10th century - seized from Christie
Buff Sandstone Stele of Rishabhanata – 10th century – seized from Christie

 

Buff Sandstone Panel Depicting Revanta and His Entourage - from India in the 8th Century
Buff Sandstone Panel Depicting Revanta and His Entourage – from India in the 8th Century

And on 15th March, they got another one that was being shipped into New York for sale.  This was a 2nd century Bodhisattva schist head from the Gandhara civilization which was most probably stolen from somewhere in Pakistan.

Second century Bodhisattva schist head from the Gandhara civilization and likely looted from a region that is now part of Pakistan

 

On March 17th, Thursday Nancy Wiener Gallery was raided and two Ancient Indian sculptures were seized.

  • An 8th Century limestone sculpture of Shiva and Parvati valued at $35,000
  • A 1st Century red sandstone Kushan Relief valued at $100,000

 

A 1st Century red sandstone Kushan Relief valued at $100,000
A 1st Century red sandstone Kushan Relief valued at $100,000

 

An 8th Century limestone sculpture of Shiva and Parvati valued at $35,000
An 8th Century limestone sculpture of Shiva and Parvati valued at $35,000

Nancy Wiener has been involved in illicit art business for very long.

Wiener is a second generation antiquities dealer who runs one of the country’s most prestigious Asian art galleries on Manhattan’s East 74th Street. Last year we revealed her role in the sale of a Kushan Buddha with a false ownership history to the National Gallery of Australia. Wiener agreed to refund the $1.08 million purchase price to the museum, which will soon return the sculpture to India.

Wiener is the latest target in a series of high profile Asia Week raids that were quietly orchestrated over the past year by special agent Brent Easter at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

All these were to be part of the Asia Week New York.  More than 40 galleries and auction houses were to participate in showing and sell paintings, sculptures, jewelry, textiles and photographs from Asia.

Manhattan prosecutors and Homeland Security Investigation officials have been trying to recover items stolen from temples and other ancient sites in Asia.  Most of the items recovered recently are connected to Subhash Kapoor who took out over 2600 pieces from India.  He is in jail still waiting for trial.

Over the past four years, the Manhattan DA’s Office and HSI New York have partnered on Operation Hidden Idol, focusing on activities surrounding the illicit cultural property trade in New York. The investigation has also identified Subhash Kapoor, who is currently in custody in India awaiting trial for allegedly looting tens of millions of dollars’ worth of rare antiquities from several nations. The trails of looted artifacts have been traced all around the world. Within the past twelve months, four domestic museums and one major collector have partnered with HSI to surrender illicit cultural property stemming from Kapoor. To date, HSI special agents, in conjunction with the Manhattan DA’s Office, have netted in excess of 2,500 artifacts worth over an estimated $100,000,000.00. These artifacts stem from countries all around the world. Additionally, four individuals have been arrested in the U.S. for their role in the scheme.

Recommended Blogs on Illicit Trade in Antiques

Recommended Books:

Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum

The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities– From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums

 

Featured Image: Courtesy Associated Press /Times Free Press.

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13 Comments
  1. Kishor Kr says

    It’s tragic that Indian heritage is being looted and sold illegally.

    1. Desh Kapoor says

      I agree, Kishor! We all have to do to raise awareness and to help get it all back!

  2. RaviSinghBlog says

    I am sure this is not the first time. There are other gangs also involved in it. People do anything for quick and easy money.

  3. jyotirmoy sarkar says

    Nice post Desh ji. i must say that i totally agree with Kishore.

    1. Desh Kapoor says

      Thanks, Jyotirmoy! 🙂 I do too!

  4. Aniruddha Shrivastava says

    Authorities in India should also look into the matter and try to cut the source itself. Some big names are involved in this trafficking who should be put behind the bar.

    1. Desh Kapoor says

      I agree, Aniruddha. I think they are. That is why the consulate in NY is working with the HSI folks in NY. Thanks for the comment buddy!

  5. Chaitali says

    Thank you for spreading this across.

  6. Priyanka says

    When people stop respecting their country, they start selling their country, and her treasures.

  7. dNambiar says

    Oh my! So it’s true — this is what happens to those stolen idols and all.
    And look at the money they play with.

  8. Ami says

    This is pathetic. Instead of preserving and enjoying your own heritage, you are actually selling it off!!!

  9. Unmesh says

    Bringing back our heritage sculptures should be given more priority than the black money.

  10. Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay says

    Thank you for bringing this to our notice. Shri Subramianiam Swamy has often stated that Sonia Gandhi and her sisters were the key people behind this multi-million dollar Indian antiquity smuggling racket.

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