Two Indian statues that are more than 1,000 years old were seized Friday from Christie’s auction house after investigators discovered they had been smuggled out of the country, eventually landing in New York. The antiquities were to be part of an auction next week called “The Lahiri Collection: Indian and Himalayan Art, Ancient and Modern.” Both are made from sandstone. One statue called “Stele of Rishabhanata” depicts a cross-legged teacher flanked by standing attendants. It is valued at about $150,000 and dates from the 10th century.
The second is a rare representation of an equestrian deity, Revanta, worth $300,000 from the 8th century. Christie’s said in a statement that it would never knowingly offer a stolen work of art and it was cooperating with authorities. “Christie’s devotes considerable resources to investigating the provenance of all objects we offer for sale. This is one of the difficulties the art market faces in vetting antiquities, which is why Christie’s very much values building strong relationships with and between countries of origin, law enforcement, archeologists, and the collecting community,” the statement read.
According to a yearslong, ongoing investigation by federal agents and the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the Rishabhanata statue was sold in 2006 or 2007. The Revanta panel contained a piece that had been perfectly broken off to be sold by smugglers after the sale of the main sculpture. The seizure sends an important message, said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of the New York office of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. “First and foremost, it demonstrates that we are committed to protecting cultural heritage around the world, and second, it demonstrates that we are monitoring the market to protect prospective buyers as well,” Melendez said.
Investigators believe both came from a smuggler in India who’s awaiting trial on charges he looted rare antiquities worth tens of millions of dollars from seven countries. Federal officials said four museums and a collector have surrendered looted artifacts within the past year. Four others have been arrested in the scheme. The consul general of India praised authorities for their work in tracking down the statues. “I would like to convey my deep sense of appreciation to HSI for the exceptional work done in locating and retrieving the sculptures brought into the United States by organized crime syndicates,” said Ambassador Riva Ganguly Das. — AP