The six-year trial of antiquities dealer Robert Hecht, aged 91, has ended on an anti-climactic note. Throughout a successful career beginning in the 1950s, Hecht supplied the world’s museums, collectors, and dealers with exquisite examples of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art. However, he was also continually dogged by accusations that his artifacts were of dubious origin, smuggled from their homelands or stolen from archaeological sites. Brought to Italian court in 2005, his trial focused on the alleged conspiracy between Hecht and a network ofdealers, smugglers, and private collectors connecting museums around the world with illegally looted antiquities.
This past Monday, January 16, the three-judge panel in Rome announced that no verdict was possible because the statute of limitations on Hecht’s charges had expired. This mirrors the result for Marion True, former curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The co-defendant’s trial also concluded without a verdict in October 2010 because the statute of limitations on her charges expired. Original prosecutor to the case Paolo Ferri expressed his frustration with the Italian criminal system, stating that these complex actions could not be settled within the narrow statutes of limitations set out in the law.
Though decided on technicalities, these proceedings have propelled museums to be more cautious when acquiring antiquities whose provenance is unclear. Throughout Hecht and True’s lengthy trials, many American museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, voluntarily returned more than one hundred artifacts from their collections to Italy when a link to Hecht and other dealers was discovered. Additionally, many museums also adopted stricter acquisition standards regarding the provenance of new acquisitions.
The cases of Hecht and True have focused international attention on the black market of antiquities sales. Their trials raised concerns that will hopefully continue putting pressure on museums and dealers to be ever vigilant when investigating the origins of their newest acquisitions.