Michael Hoff, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The head of an Aphrodite sculpture was discovered in southern Turkey during archaeological excavations.
A collection of seven masterpieces by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and other legendary artists were thought to be lost to an incinerator, after a Romanian woman, Olga Dogaru, claimed she burned them. She said she destroyed them in an effort to protect her son, allegedly responsible for stealing them from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.
In court Monday, offering a window of hope that the paintings, valued at tens of millions of dollars, may yet be recovered.
As this case illustrates, just because art can last forever doesn't mean it isn't fragile. Great works of art have been burned, torn and stolen, lost to the public and never seen again.
Five masterpieces, worth around a combined $150 million, painted by Matisse, Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and others were stolen by a lone burglar from the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris. The heist was tragically simple, requiring the thief to slip past three ineffective guards and a malfunctioning alarm system before easily cutting each painting out of its frame.
After police arrested two accomplices who had helped with arranging the theft, the robber panicked and "destroyed the canvasses before throwing them into a rubbish bin."
A fire at a Momart storage warehouse in 2004 claimed more than 100 works of art, including more than 50 paintings from abstract artist Patrick Heron and 36 by painter Damien Hirst, among others. The value of the artwork lost was estimated to be over $75 million.
Investigators blamed a nearby break-in at a neighboring warehouse as the cause of the blaze.
Intending to touch-up a fading, 19th-century fresco of Jesus Christ, Cecilia Gimenez, an elderly woman living in Spain, is the one behind what The New York Times described as "probably the worst art restoration of all time."
Titled "Ecce Homo," or "Behold the Man," the fresco, which resided in a church in Borja, had been slowly chipped away due to moisture on the walls. When church authorities saw the work Gimenez had done, they initially suspected vandalism before Gimenez came forward, claiming that her work, which had been described as monkey-like by critics, had been commissioned by a priest.
On March 18, 1990, thieves pulled off what was the largest art heist in U.S. history, making off with a collection worth an estimated $300 million to $500 million, a crime that has still gone unsolved. Disguised as police officers, the burglars entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and took their time -- 81 minutes in total -- pulling off their heist.
The collection includes works from Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt and Edgar Degas. The paintings were cut right out of their frames, leading investigators to believe the burglars weren't running a sophisticated operation.
Above: Johannes Vermeer's "The Concert," worth an estimated $200 million, is probably the most valuable artwork the criminals stole.
In 1992, a misdirected youth group found their way to the Mayrieres cave near the village of Bruniquel with the intention of cleaning up graffiti. What they actually managed to do was nearly destroy a 15,000-year-old artwork.
The cave, adorned with a painting of two bison dating back to the paleolithic era, is one of hundreds along southwestern France, including the famous Lascaux caves in the Dordogne region.
Given the unflattering lens with which Lucien Freud paints his portraits, it might not be too surprising that at least one of his subjects wasn't happy with the end result.
In the 1950s, Freud painted a portrait of antique dealer Bernard Breslauer. Unhappy with the result, particularly with the depiction of his chin, Breslauer later destroyed the painting, despite the fact that the artwork was eventually worth millions.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 claimed not only thousands of American lives. Hundreds of works of art, valued at more than $100 million dollars, were destroyed.
In addition to the loss of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney, the attack on the World Trade Center also took some 300 drawings and bronze scupltures by Auguste Rodin.
The single largest loss of Western artwork took place during World War II. Tens of thousands of works were looted or destroyed.
While time is putting more distance between the lost artwork and their rightful owners, paintings and sculptures, stolen by Nazi soldiers, are still being recovered. Some even occasionally turn up in museums where they've been on public display for years.
An online database of still-missing artwork is available at lootedart.com, in the hopes of reuniting plundered artwork with the families of the original owners.
A group of archaeologists has discovered a life-sized marble head of Aphrodite while uncovering an ancient pool-side mosaic in southern Turkey.
Buried under soil for hundreds of years, the goddess of love and beauty has some chipping on her nose and face. Researchers think her presence could shed light on the extent of the Roman Empire's wide cultural influence at the time of its peak.
Archaeologists found the sculpture while working at a site called Antiochia ad Cragum (Antioch on the cliffs), on the Mediterranean coast. The researchers believe the region, which is dotted with hidden inlets and coves, would have been a haven for Cilician pirates — the same group who kidnapped Julius Caesar and held him for ransom around 75 B.C.
But the pirates' reign ended when the Roman occupation of the area expanded. The city was officially established around the time of Emperor Nero and flourished during the height of the Roman Empire, researchers say.
The excavators had been looking for more parts of the largest Roman mosaic ever found in Turkey: a 1,600-square-foot (150 square meters) marble floor elaborately decorated with geometric designs, adorning a plaza outside a Roman bath. During fresh excavations this past summer, they found the statue head lying face-down. The researchers think the marble head was likely long separated from its body; traces of lime kilns have been found near the site, suggesting many statues and hunks of stone would have been burned to be reused in concrete. [See Photos of Goddess Statue and Magnificent Roman Mosaic]
Past scholars have argued that southern Turkey's culture was too insular to be greatly impacted by Rome's reach and that it was a peripheral part of the empire. But the presence of an Aphrodite sculpture suggests Greek and Roman influence had become mainstream in far-flung cities like Antiochia ad Cragum in the first and second centuries A.D., the excavation's director Michael Hoff, an art historian at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in a statement.
Hoff said Aphrodite's head is the first fragment of a monumental statue they have found at Antiochia ad Cragum over eight years of digging.
"We have niches where statues once were. We just didn't have any statues," Hoff said in a statement. "Finally, we have the head of a statue. It suggests something of how mainstream these people were who were living here, how much they were a part of the overall Greek and Roman traditions."
The researchers also found other traces of Roman influence, such as a second mosaic adorning a building that looks like it might be a temple.
"Everything about it is telling us it's a temple, but we don't have much in the way of to whom it was dedicated," Hoff said in a statement. "We're still analyzing the finds. But the architecture suggests heavily that it was a temple."
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