Treasures, Antiquities and Art Historians

 

Treasures, treasures everywhere, nor any art to hang up on the walls. With my apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge on his epic 1797 poem The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. That is an epic poem due to its length; stolen art is epic in its quantity, quality and the length of time between theft and retrieval. If there is a retrieval. It keeps all those art historians on their toes. Whether it is stolen paintings, antiquities swiped from war torn countries, sculpture that sneaks out under cover of dark, the art history folks keep their eyes opened for all these items.

And, of course, the police. I subscribe to a few blogs that relate in some fashion to art, art history, stolen art, recovering said stolen art, and so on. The information available to read on these topics is a mountain that is hard to scale when you dawdle along as I seem to do. I literally cannot keep up with all the articles that land in my inbox. I can only imagine what art curators must deal with daily. In order to be on the lookout for stolen art, one must first know what is missing from homes, galleries, museums, transportation hubs and private viewings.

The latest blog that caught my eye was from the ARCA blog. ARCA stands for Art la di da and so on find out what this means. The blog highlights the Italian police, known as the Carabinieri, who diligently chase down all the lovely and irreplaceable artworks stolen from Italian soil. The Italians have a finely-honed police art squad, if you will, completely dedicated to the successful return of all stolen items. Italians take art as seriously as food, water and wine. Italians are rightfully proud of their heritage from music to paintings to sculpture to architecture. Their art curators authenticate so much work every day, curate it, and help sell it legally to buyers and collectors, you would think they don’t have time to deal with thefts of art. But all those art thefts are exactly what ruins their galleries, museums, all public buildings, and private collections.

Fabrizio Rossi Luogotenente presso Arma dei Carabineri Photo: UNESCO

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Italian Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale publishes bulletins to inform the public about stolen art because it has proven to help to curb art theft and trafficking. Brigadier General Fabrizio Parulli, the Carabinieri TPC Commander said in the 38th edition of the bulletin:

“We believe that what has been stolen must not be considered as lost forever. On the contrary, we regard it as held hostage by offenders who can and must be defeated by the Italian and the international police force, together with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage Activities and Tourism, the art dealers and all the citizens.”

Clearly you should never steal from the Italians because they will run you to ground in order to retrieve their artwork!

This year the group sponsored a conference entitled “Art Held Hostage” for people who work in law enforcement, academia, galleries, museums, auction houses and the art market. The conference included descriptions of all the artwork stolen this year that has yet to be recovered. There is no end to the work, apparently, for people trying to gain back the works that are a major component of cultural heritage.

Museum of the Missing bySimon Houpt. The book details stolen artwork that has not been recovered.

The problem is obviously not unique to Italy, or even Europe. Art thefts, artifacts and antiquities thefts, criminal networks and willing buyers operate on every continent. Whether it is a Chinese Ming vase, a pre-Columbian artifact from South America, a painting from the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, thieves are working everywhere, under all conditions, to unlawfully earn a buck.

This brings me to what is going on with the characters in my own work. All this information is just so juicy. Unfortunately, I am not writing a definitive academic work on the nature of art and antiquities thefts. My work must curtail all that exploration into dark corners and pick something manageable. It’s been fun to read, ponder, and look out the window. But now it’s time to decide what must actually make its way into a story that is believable to you, dear readers, and entice you to continue reading. So, alas, you won’t be reading all the latest from the world of criminal art sales. There will be fun information, chases to catch the thieves, and many moments of love and longing. These books are, after all, about romance, not just skullduggery and shenanigans.

A little sneak peek might be in order here. One of my characters in one of the books is a woman who owns an art gallery. She tends to specialize in nineteenth century American painters, especially those who paint landscapes. That idea has led me to some very pleasure time spent on the website of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Their website could hold you captive for hours. There is so much to view from their collection. Naturally, I kept viewing and viewing. But viewing isn’t writing, said the inner voice. So, I reluctantly left the website to return to writing.

What I learned was so interesting I decided to share some of it with you in these blogs. The other aspect of all this viewing is to share actual photos of the artwork that has caught my attention. You will also get to see some magnificent examples of American painting. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. So, I will share pictures for your entertainment and edification. Mostly for the entertainment.

My hope is you find all these tidbits intriguing enough to stay around and read. You need something positive in your day, which viewing art can provide. You need a puzzle to solve, which reading about art thefts, antiquities stolen, and the hair pulling of art historians can provide. Sounds like a good mix we can enjoy together.

Have a wonderful week. I hope this inspires you to go online and find artwork you like and learn something about it. Happy viewing and reading!

Art History Helps Preserve Our Heritage

 

Art history helps preserve and protect our western heritage and that is reason enough to study it. That is a bold statement and I’ll be happy to buttress that with some real-life examples. And the reason for all this? Well, I have all these characters and ideas for story lines that involved history, art, music, dance and so on. We need all those art historians, or curators as they are now known. And we need art history studies in our education tool kit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isabella Gardner Museum Italian Room, Boston, Massachusetts

People who went to college to get a good liberal arts educational background intended to be well-informed, well-rounded in their knowledge and skills, and to understand what makes Western Civilization so special. Also, for those of us who have studied art history, we know it brings delight and a joyful attitude about life. Learning to love art can bring appreciation for the beauty found in all our world.

God gave us a beautiful place to live and humans have been expressing themselves in relation to that beauty. We don’t have to be historians or art majors to appreciate art history. What we need is curiosity and an appreciation for all the things that help make our lives more beautiful. Do you wax poetic over the city dump? Not likely. What about a photo or painting of a spectacular sunset? Much more likely. In fact, I doubt many romances were born from poetry extolling the virtues of the dung heap. Rose gardens? Yep, I’m pretty sure that was done. Also, some comparisons to roses made their way into poetry. And paintings. And maybe a play or movie or book.

Art History-Van Gogh Vase

Van Gogh Vase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are all trappings of our great civilization. As we study the art mankind has created ancient statuary and drawings to the photography now widely available, we see that our forebears have allowed the beauty of life to capture their imaginations. They were compelled to display their love of life in some way that we could all enjoy. And we are just as compelled to honor that endeavor by preserving it. As scholars and ordinary people have studied art history and the making of art in all the ages, we bind together our human experiences. We portray the innocence of children and the pain of lost love. We showcase our pets and our landscapes. A trotting horse catches our eye, while the paintings of flowers bring smiles to our faces.

Art History-Pissarro Art

 

 

 

 

Art can make us cherish the ordinary and fall hopelessly in love with the exquisitely beautiful. Personally, I am completely taken by paintings of flowers. They speak to my soul of summer days and the scent of life wafting in the air. It is easy for me to draft a major character who has studied and analyzed thousands of paintings. Sculpture might be your interest and if so, who wouldn’t be moved by the work of Michelangelo? His David or The Pieta would bring tears to your eyes from the sheer beauty and realism of these works.

Right now I am working out the plotting for a book featuring a main character who owns an art gallery. Some of my time every day is spent immersed in looking at the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. These are some my best moments every day. I love to look at artwork. My favorite is paintings, but I have an eye for sculpture as well. If I could twitch my nose and go to Italy for the purpose of traipsing through galleries and museums I would be the happiest woman in America. Since that isn’t going to happen this month, I content myself with online ogling. It’s all I can do to keep from ordering prints. But I digress….

Art history might seem like some esoteric major to you because you studied something else. But I ask you to answer this: do you appreciate all the benefits of what our civilization has preserved and handed to you? People who are thinking about the larger issues of life have been telling us what they believe and think for a couple of millennia. Contemplating the nature of mankind and life itself is not something relegated to the leisure class. If that were true, how would you explain all those lovely cave drawings in France? People have been thinking and embellishing their lives for longer than you can imagine.

I love to do needle work of all kinds and once upon a time the Chinese invented the elaborate embroidery we now see. Someone wanted to express him or herself with colored silk on a garment. The concept of wearing art was born and we have been making our garments look more beautiful since then. Next someone took on the task of elaborately decorating household items. From pillows, to hangings, to bedclothes and blankets, throws and furniture upholstery, we made things a work of art rather than plain. We said these things are beautiful because we honor beauty. All those items that ended up in museums and galleries tell us something about what their makers, and by larger inclusion, their culture deemed important or significant in some way or just for the sheer beauty of it.

We see the trappings of a civilization and can deduce something about the people from what they valued. A romp through an art history book or class will show you in concrete terms what built our own Western civilization. When you add the writings and music of different time periods into the mix you begin to see real people, not some dry and dusty tour of the past.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, (ahem!) I studied history. It was my major and I intended to teach it in a high school. As I explained before, that didn’t happen. But my little people in the books will leave a fun trail to follow in the corners of historical events. When you start reading about art history and other fun facts in the upcoming books, please remember that it is the story of our ancestors and how they viewed the world. And have fun with all of it. I promise not to lecture about it!

Have a happy week and happy Mother’s Day to all the moms. May you be showered with flowers!

Art, Thieves and Shady Characters

Art thefts don’t rank high as a daily concern for most people. After all, most people in the world don’t own expensive artwork, don’t necessarily understand the art market, and frankly don’t have time to care about the issue. What with caring for ourselves, our families, our friends, going to work and just trying to keep up with the laundry, cleaning and who knows what, who can blame them? In the cosmos, art theft ranks low on the priority list. But there are some of us who fret about it for personal or professional reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gentle readers: you know writers are just about a bubble off plumb compared to normal folks. I am no exception. And somehow this issue about art theft has taken up residence in my mind and I can’t evict it. I act like my Jack Russell terrier with her chew toys…she shakes and shakes her head from side to side but doesn’t let go. Nice mental image, right? Yep, that’s me about all this art stuff.
Naturally that means as a writer I must use all this information as fuel for a book. Or two, or ten or twenty.

If I am going to write books about boys and girls falling in love there must be some kind of fascinating background for their lives. People don’t live in a vacuum and you wouldn’t read a book that doesn’t give you any inkling about who these characters are as people and what they do with their time. It is hard to care about people or things you know nothing about. This sounds just like a circular argument. But I didn’t really mean it to be that way.
The salient point here is a writer must have many tools in her writing bag. Not just pens and paper, computers or typewriters. I mean a different set of tools. Tools like personality types, occupations, interests or hobbies. All the natural things that pertain to us real people are at work in a novel with believable characters.
You don’t want to read anything with cardboard characters. You have a crazy uncle, so do characters in a book. Your aunty is bonkers about making jam, some guy in a book collects baseball cards. You know what I mean? Ordinary ups and downs and activities of a normal life. Note that descriptor: normal. We don’t need to examine the lunatic fringe here!
This art theft business was always in the back of my mind but I didn’t actively research it until the past few years. Okay, a true confession here. I am plotting and scheming a book that is a thriller. It might end up as a romantic thriller, but I haven’t gotten that far. The underlying premise of the books is about how Nazi stolen art is used, along with other art thefts, to finance some nefarious dealings.

How so, you ask?
Believe it or not, art theft is the fourth most lucrative crime in the world. Yep. This is sort of a follow the money trail to show you, only it’s follow the art. First of all, artwork, particularly paintings, is fairly easy to steal and hide while traveling the globe to an eventual buyer. Since the works are hot properties, you won’t find them listed at an auction at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. Their catalog lists only works with proven provenance. Thieves are only interested in the money to be made.
Secondly, stolen goods can be held in escrow for a financial transaction or for outright payment. In plain language, some scumbag has the stolen art for sale to raise necessary cash. Yes, CASH. No bank drafts on these deals. The cash is then used to purchase other items such as drugs, weapons, humans, what have you. The underlying cash cow of stolen art is funding human sex trafficking and terrorism.
That might shock you. Most people don’t associate the two. You think ISIS or Al Qaeda buys it weapons from US military surplus sales? No, they deal with shady dealers. There are always people who want to make a buck providing weapons to clients. Their morals being what they are, it doesn’t matter who is going to get killed by these weapons as long as the arms dealer gets his cut.
This explains why ordinary people are starting to take some notice. The problem is not some hush, hush proposition. With irrefutable proof of these deals, we can track what happens to art or money. At least we can sometimes.

The track record on returning the stolen art is pretty sketchy. The record is even worse when it comes to the artwork originally stolen from Jewish families by the Nazis. Then the Communists rolled into Europe from Russia and yanked some of that artwork right out German hands. These boys don’t play well with others, you see. Hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared into the great maw of the underworld.

 


 

 

 

 

 

So where was I? Oh, right. This is really tasty stuff for the books, don’t you see? Why I can just invent all kinds of people and art and bad guys and the hero coming in to rescue the damsel in distress and reward money and…well, you get the picture. It will be fun. And I need some ongoing theme and structure for all my lovely ladies. Don’t be surprised if I turn up with a musician, a dancer, a painter and so on along with all these characters involved in artwork. But I have a soft spot for art historians, or curators, as they are now called. There is nothing boring about what they do all day. And my goal is to entertain, not bore, you, the reader.
As a matter of fact, in the quirky way life works, I started with three ideas, plotted them in my writer’s notebook, and when I sat down to write things took a turn here and a twist there. Such is life. The path is nearly always serpentine, not straight. I’ll let you know what’s happening. Right now, I have a music teacher, a handsome devil of a man, and their fiery dance to write about.
Have a great week and enjoy the books you are reading. I have to dive back into my imaginary world and get my work completed while the cat and dog snooze nearby.
Be happy in this first week of May!