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November 06, 2007

Italy Scores: Now it's the Dealers

Who's next? Why, the dealers are next. Jerome Eisenberg, the long-time and much in-the-mix antiquities dealer, has given Italy eight pieces of art valued at about a half-million dollars, according to reports today. (See AP and Bloomberg .) Eisenberg, now 77, has claimed to be doing so "for ethics and good will," but we may fairly imagine that the Italians were prepared to use less esoteric tactics than appealing to Eisenberg's higher angels. "The circle is tightening," said Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli, with characteristic cheeriness. The art and archeology community seems to be of two minds about Eisenberg, who on the one hand, has helped publicize issues related to illegal antiquity excavation and export in his magazine, Minerva, and on the other hand been accused of engaging in the very same, as is most any dealer who buys and sells antiquities. "I brought 27,000 pieces out of Egypt from 1958 to 1965," Eisenberg says on a 2005 Greek documentary about looted antiquities. "Of those, 70 or 80 had a provenance." Eisenberg has returned three bronze Etruscan statues, four vases and a marble sculpture, according to the Italians. How did they track these pieces down? They visited his Royal-Athena gallery on East 57th Street where they were on display. Buyer, beware. Seller, beware too.