The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) is suing the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in response to the prosecutor’s decision. August seizure of a $20 million classic bronze sculpture. The statue, depicting a headless man in a draped robe, is one of more than 4,600 antiques that the Manhattan DA has sought to repatriate since 2021. Although the statue’s provenance has long been disputed, a renewed interest in Interest in the recovery of looted Turkish antiquities and increased surveillance have been noted. by U.S. officials have returned the work “seized on site,” while authorities determine its legality and further fate.
In its suit, the CMA claims to have legally acquired the work, following its exhibition in several American museums during the 1960s and 1970s. Although the museum states that it “does not question the fact that the New York District Attorney is sometimes right and returns actual stolen items to foreign countries,” he says “this is not one of those times.”
The Turkish government first contacted the CMA to request information about the statue’s provenance in 2009, before claiming in 2012 that it had in fact been looted. The repatriation request claims that the statue was taken from Bubon in Turkey, where local residents found and then trafficked a large number of bronze statues in the 1960s. The only objects remaining for archaeological study were 14 empty pedestals, all bearing the names of Roman emperors and empresses (as well as a single statue, which now stands in a nearby museum).
Experts having noted the strange coincidence between the exhaustion of the Bubon site and the arrival of four particularly impressive bronze statues in the collection of Charles Lipson in Boston in 1967, but due to the decapitated nature of the figures, the attribution proved difficult. When the CMA purchased the Draped male figure by Lipson in 1986, it is assumed that it came from Türkiye.
The central claim linking the statue to Bubo is its prior identification as a resemblance to Marcus Aurelius, a 2nd-century Roman emperor whose name is inscribed on one of the empty pedestals studied by local archaeologists. Before August, the description of the work by the CMA noted a rare inconsistency between the exceptional quality of the character (characteristic of an “imperial portrait”) and the non-Roman clothing consistent with the representations of Greek philosophers. This was resolved by assuming that the subject of the statue was Marcus Aurelius, due to his dual status as a Stoic philosopher and emperor, as well as his marked love of Greek culture.
In August, just before public allegations of illegal acquisition by the Manhattan DA, the CMA amended its description of the statue, stating that “the identity of the character depicted remains unknown”. The museum also reversed its estimate that the statue was created near Bubon between 180 and 200 AD, instead proposing a broader attribution between 150 BC and 200 AD with a “Roman or possibly Hellenistic Greek” heritage. “.
While other museums recently returned Bubon-related works, the CMA appears poised to challenge any association between his bronze and the archaeological site in the upcoming lawsuit with the Manhattan DA.