Authorities Seize $5M Roman Bust From Massachusetts Museum

bust wam
“Portrait of a Lady (A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?)” (160–180 CE), bronze, 21 1/4 x 18 7/16 x 13 3/8 inches (image courtesy Worcester Art Museum)

The Worcester Art Museum (WAM) in Massachusetts has turned over an Ancient Roman bust to the Manhattan District Attorney’s (DA) Office, according to a press release published Friday, September 1. Three weeks ago, the DA’s office issued a warrant for a bronze from the same time period from the Cleveland Museum of Art. The two sculptures are part of “an active criminal investigation into a smuggling network involving antiquities looted from Turkey and trafficked through Manhattan.”

The artifact at WAM, titled “Portrait of a Lady (A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?),” is dated between 160 and 180 CE and valued at around $5 million. The museum thinks the sculpture was displayed in the family shrine of one of two Roman emperors — Marcus Aurelius or Septimius Severus — and depicts one of their daughters. 

The museum bought the bust in 1966. WAM said it received “little information” about the bronze but knew it had been recovered in Southwestern Turkey. The institution stated it had not received any provenance claims until earlier this year, when the DA’s office provided the museum with details about the sculpture’s history. 

The museum said the DA’s information led the institution to determine that the bust was “likely stolen or improperly imported,” though WAM spokesperson Madeline Feller told Hyperallergic the museum cannot disclose relevant evidence because of the confidentiality requirements surrounding grand jury proceedings. The DA’s office has not responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment.

“With its limited resources, the Museum has not been able to prioritize provenance research of its existing collection,” Feller said, adding that the museum will hire a provenance research team and increase scrutiny of its collection. “The Worcester Art Museum takes seriously its responsibility to be a steward of objects in its collection.”

News of the seizure at WAM comes just weeks after the DA’s office issued a warrant for an allegedly looted bronze at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The work was created between 150 BCE and 200 CE and worth $20 million, according to authorities. The over six-foot-tall sculpture shows a figure positioned and dressed as a Greek orator, but the institution says the quality of the work suggests the figure was a Roman politician, and its missing head makes it even harder to identify the subject. Turkey first claimed rightful ownership of that work in 2012. The Cleveland Museum of Art told Hyperallergic that it “takes provenance issues very seriously and reviews claims to objects in the collection carefully and responsibly.”

cleveland statue
“Draped Male Figure” (c. 150 BCE–200 CE), bronze, 76 inches (image courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art)

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