An ancient sculpture of a Hindu goddess that was stolen from a temple in the Banda district of Uttar Pradesh and trafficked for sale in London in the 1980s will be now be returned to India, the Guardian reports.
The High Commission of India in London is set to formally accept the return of the antiquity, which depicts a seated female deity with a goat head. The ancient stone icon, which dates back to either the 8th or 9th century, was among a group of yogini Hindu figures that were stolen between 1979 and 1982 from the grounds of a temple near the village of Lokhari.
The recovery was facilitated by Christopher Marinello, a lawyer and art restitution expert based in London. Marinello was aided by Vijay Kumar, a specialist in recovering Indian cultural objects to repatriate the piece. The two worked with the Indian’s Archaeological Survey and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and London’s Metropolitan Police.
When the sculpture was offered for sale in London in 1988, it was estimated to fetch around £15,000 ($19,000). The lot was included in the auction house’s catalogue, but was later pulled from the sale before ever being offered. Despite a five-year-long investigation into the auction house’s dealing of looted antiquities initiated by U.K. authorities that same year, the identity of the consignor of the piece was never revealed. The sculpture was mentioned in British journalist Peter Watson’s 1997 book Sotheby’s: The Inside Story, which examined the auction house’s alleged wrongdoing when it came to the trade of art looted from religious sites.
Decades after surfacing in the auction catalogue where it was being advertised for sale, Marinello found the statue last month in the garden of an English home, where it was covered in moss. The state had suffered visible wear from outside conditions. The owner of the U.K. home where the piece long resided was not aware of the religious object’s history when she hired Marinello’s firm, Art Recovery International, to assist in the sale of works from her estate.
Marinello told the Guardian this case brings to light the “countless looted objects in English gardens and collections related to colonial history.”
A statement from Sotheby’s in the same report noted that the house’s compliance standards for selling antiquities are higher today. Sotheby’s said it is “supported by a world-class compliance team, who work closely with outside authorities to ensure that we operate to the highest level of business integrity.”