Met Museum Surrenders Another Ancient Sculpture to DA for Investigation

The marble statue is 2,300 years old.

This ancient bull head may have been looted to from Lebanon. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan, has turned it over to the Manhattan DA. Courtesy of William and Lynda Beierwaltes.
This ancient bull head may have been looted to from Lebanon. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan, has turned it over to the Manhattan DA. Courtesy of William and Lynda Beierwaltes.

For the second time in less than a month, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has turned over an ancient work of art to the authorities under suspicions that it was looted. The piece in question, a 2,300-year-old marble bull’s head, is now believed to have been stolen from a warehouse in Lebanon during the civil war in the 1980s.

The statue, which is nearly a foot tall, has been on loan to the museum since 2010 and had been on display in the Greek and Roman galleries. It belongs to William and Lynda Beierwaltes, who paid over $1 million for it in 1996, according to the New York Times. Michael H. Steinhardt purchased the sculpture from the couple in 2010, only to insist on its return after learning of its potential provenance issues.

“Upon a Met curator’s discovery that this item on loan may have been stolen from government storage during the Lebanese civil war, the Museum took immediate action,” said Kenneth Weine, the Met’s chief communications officer, in a statement. “We contacted the Lebanese government and the lender, we took the item off display, and we have been working with federal and state authorities.”

This ancient bull head may have been looted to from Lebanon. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan, has turned it over to the Manhattan DA. Courtesy of William and Lynda Beierwaltes.

This ancient bull head may have been looted to from Lebanon. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan, has turned it over to the Manhattan DA. Courtesy of William and Lynda Beierwaltes.

The Beierwaltes are separately suing the Lebanon antiquities directorate in federal court, claiming there is no evidence that the work was stolen, and that even if there was, the statute of limitations has expired. “The Beierwaltes are bona fide purchasers with clean hands,” the couple’s lawyer, William G. Pearlstein, told the Times. “By contrast, for more than 50 years, Lebanon has failed [to] take any action domestically or internationally to report any theft of the bull’s head.”

The bull’s head was discovered during excavations of in Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, Lebanon, in 1967. The museum gave the work over to Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance after a warrant was obtained on July 6.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also now in possession of an ancient vase from the Met collection, seized last week over suspicions it was stolen.


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