Christie’s has come under fire for selling a ca. first-century statue of the Greek god Eros that has allegedly passed through the hands of antiquities dealers who may have been involved in illegal trade practices. The piece is featured on the cover of a catalogue for a sale due to take place in an antiquities auction in London on December 4, and it is estimated to sell for as much as £800,000 (about $1.03 million).
Christos Tsirogiannis, a former senior field archaeologist at Cambridge University’s archaeological unit and a newly appointed associate professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus in Denmark, raised concerns with the house over the lot’s provenance. Throughout his career, Tsirogiannis has identified more than 1,000 looted artifacts at auction houses, commercial galleries, and in private collections—including five pieces of dubious origin offered at Christie’s New York in 2014. According to the Guardian, Tsirogiannis has cited four photographs of “exactly the same object” in the possession of infamous British dealer Robin Symes and his late partner Christo Michaelides.
In 2005 Symes was convicted for disregarding court orders over the sale of a £3 million Egyptian statue. In 2016 Italian and Swiss police recovered thousands of looted artifacts stored by Symes at the Geneva Freeport in Switzerland. The Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA) described the trove as “an Ali Baba’s cave-worthy hoard of Roman and Etruscan treasures.”
Regarding the Eros statue, titled A Roman Marble Eros Unstringing His Bow in the Christie’s catalogue, Tsirogiannis alleged that Christie’s had failed to adequately establish the provenance. “Here we have the much-advertised due diligence process of Christie’s that has largely failed since it missed the most important part–the connection to Symes and Michaelides, notorious antiquities dealers connected with numerous cases of illicit antiquities,” he told the Guardian.
The catalogue lists the sculpture as “the property of a gentleman.” The provenance is described as: “[Writer] Roger Peyrefitte (1907–2000) collection, Paris, said to have been acquired from [dealer] Nicolas Landau in the late 1960s. French private collection, purchased from the above in 1986.” For Tsirogiannis, the phrase “said to have been” could prove that the work has a suspect provenance.
In response to Tsirogiannis’s claims, a Christie’s spokesperson said in a statement, “Following extensive research, we have found no grounds under which title to sell can be questioned. Christie’s would never sell anything having reason to believe has been stolen or inauthentic. We devote considerable time and money to investigating the objects in our care.”
Tsirogiannis described the Eros statue as “an extremely important and beautiful object.” He later added, “A potential buyer’s investment and reputation will be at stake if, in due course, any proof of its illicit origin appears.”