The judge rejects Turkey’s claim that an ancient sculpture was looted.
The marble idol, a slick figure about nine inches tall with its head tilted slightly upward, has been on display for more than two decades at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It was probably created between 4800 and 4100 BCE in what is now the Turkish province of Manisa. For years, his presence in New York seemed to elicit few objections from his home country.
But that changed in 2017 when the idol, known as Guennol Stargazer, went on sale by Christie’s. That year, the Turkish government sued the auction house and the owner of the work, Michael Steinhardt. Citing the Ottoman decree of 1906, which claims broad ownership of antiquities found in Turkey, the government said the idol had been illegally removed from its territory and must be returned.
Manhattan Federal District Court Judge Alison J. Nathan issued a written ruling on Tuesday, citing evidence presented at a court trial in April and ruling against Turkey.
“Although the Idol was undoubtedly made in what is now Turkey today, the Court cannot conclude from the trial record that it was searched in Turkey after 1906. she wrote, adding that even though Turkey had established ownership, she had “slept on her rights” and took too long to make a claim.
In his ruling, Justice Nathan said the Star Watcher was notable for its “size and near-new condition” and was “among the most outstanding examples” of its kind.
There seemed little doubt that the astronomer was from Anatolia, but Judge Nathan wrote that “where the idol traveled after it was made is no longer a mystery,” adding that such articles have probably been traded or traded.
Turkey argued that there was no evidence that such idols traveled beyond Anatolia and that it could be inferred that the stargazer was searched there. But Judge Nathan wrote that there was “insufficient evidence” to support this view.
While it is impossible to trace the idol’s journey over thousands of years, records show that she appeared in New York City in 1961 when tennis court star and collector Alastair B. Martin and his wife , Edith Martin, bought it from the art dealer. JJ Klejman.
(It was later transferred to a company controlled by Alastair Martin’s son, Robin Martin; to an art gallery; then to Mr. Steinhardt.)
How Mr. Klejman came across the idol is also a mystery, Judge Nathan wrote.
“There is no evidence on the record to establish where he first encountered the idol, how the idol came into his possession, or when and how he brought the idol to the United States.” , she added.
Turkey, seeking to substantiate its argument that the idol was looted, wrote in its court documents that former Met director Thomas Hoving, once mentioned Mr. Klejman as one of his “favorite traffickers-dealers”.
Judge Nathan countered that “Hoving’s memoir does not reveal much about Klejman’s specific business practices” and placed more emphasis on the idol’s visibility after arriving in New York.
It was exhibited in the permanent galleries of the Met from 1968 to 1993, Judge Nathan wrote, with very few interruptions. She added that it had also been widely discussed in various writings from the 1960s onwards and had been mentioned in Turkish publications by academics with ties to the Ministry of Culture.
The public display of the work, along with its publication history, gave Turkish authorities the opportunity to claim ownership, Judge Nathan wrote. She suggested that Turkey’s failure to claim the idol before it was sold to Mr Steinhardt might have led her to conclude that her ownership was not in dispute.
“Whether Turkey had pursued its potential claim or inquired about the provenance of the idol before 1993,” she wrote. “It’s entirely possible that Steinhardt never bought the idol.”