I Grifoni – Ascoli Satriano

I Grifoni – Ascoli Satriano

The "TRAPEZOPHOROS" with GRIFONI and CERVA (325-300 BC) is an integral part of a Macedonian tomb and the only example of marble group, whose quality and whose decoration has been spared by time and odysseys that featured all these centuries. The extraordinary sculpture, which represents the support of a ritual table, is 95 cm high and 148 cm long. It consists of a pair of "GRIFI" with the body of a lion and the head of a dragon with the crest of a purple red and blue wings spread out above. They are hunting and stuck in the ground with their claws on a doe that emerges with his nose, lying on the ground with the front legs bent and the rear ones totally stretched out.

A valuable statue of Apollo Roman age (II A.D.) adds to these objects, also stolen from a Roman villa in the territory of Ascoli Satriano.

The story of this extraordinary discovery.

Watch the video (Italian only)

In the '70s (maybe between 1976 and 1977) illegal excavations were carried out by local grave robbers in the Ascoli Satriano area.

The findings were immediately dismembered with a saw. Some of them were seized by the local Police and stored in boxes in the warehouse of Police (Guardia di Finanza) in Foggia, where they lost traces while awaiting trial. Other pieces, the finest ones, the trapezophoros and podanipter, were sold by grave robbers to a famous art dealer, Giacomo Medici. The pieces ended then, by means of a well-known international trafficker, Robin Symes, in the collection of Maurice Tempelsman, Belgian-American, mining magnate and merchant of diamonds.

Subsequently, again with the help of Symes, the two extraordinary items of the fourth century B.C., paid respectively $5.5 million and $2.2 million, were sold at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, along with the statue of Apollo (paid $2.5 million).

The curator of ancient art section of the Getty Museum, Arthur Houghton, informed by Giacomo Medici, became aware in 1985 of the illegal origin of the objects acquired by Tempelsman, who said he bought in 1976 or 1977 the pieces and sold them to two international traffickers: the podanipter to Robert Hecht, the trapezophoros and the Apollo to Robin Symes. Houghton also had learned from Hecht that the place of origin was Orta Nova, the basis of grave robbers.

Meanwhile, one of the grave robbers, Savino Berardi, seriously ill, shortly before his death in 2002, pointed to the marshals of the Carabinieri (local Police) Salvatore Morando and Roberto Lai the site of origin in the territory of Ascoli Satriano, and informed them of the existence of other material that was seized at the time asking the military to bring the Grifoni back to Italy.

The police then started a complex investigation in the archives of the former District Court in Orta Nova, whose offices were in the meantime been transferred to Cerignola. Between folders now destined to be destroyed, they found documents dating back to 1978 and, therefore 'digging' in the warehouse of Police (Guardia di Finanza) in Foggia, rediscovered a crate of confiscated materials, named to Berardi, with 19 pieces of marble.

It is 5th May 2006.

At this point the two events once again intertwined: as part of a process for illegal trade in archaeological finds against the perpetrator Hecht and archaeologist Marion True, who in 1986 had replaced Houghton as ancient art curator at the Getty Museum. Angelo Bottini (then Superintendent Archaeologist of Rome) recognises the high quality of the artefacts found by the Police and establishes a connection with the items purchased by the Getty Museum.

After lengthy negotiations conducted by the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture, 22 years after their purchase made in 1985, the remains were returned to Italy on 1st August 2007. In June 2010 the Ministry authorised the "return back home" of these extraordinary objects.

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