NEW YORK: A US has judge ruled that Turkey cannot recover a 6,000-year-old marble idol known as the “Guennol Stargazer” from Christie’s and the hedge fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt.
US District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan said Turkey “inexcusably slept” on its rights by not suing until April 2017, just before Christie’s put the idol up for auction, though it should have known of the idol’s whereabouts decades earlier.
She said Turkey also did not prove that the 22.9 cm figurine, named for the slight upward tilt of its head as if toward the heavens, was excavated from Turkey after 1906, making the country its rightful owner under that year’s Ottoman Decree.
Nathan also rejected Turkey’s suggestion that Steinhardt, a prominent art collector, ignored “red flags” about the idol’s provenance.
The decision is a setback to Turkey’s legal efforts in the United States to reclaim antiquities it believes were looted.
Nathan ruled after an eight-day non-jury civil trial in April. Turkey’s U.S.-based lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lawyers for Christie’s and Steinhardt did not immediately respond to similar requests.
According to Christie’s, the idol dates from 3000 to 2200 BC and is one of the finest and largest preserved Anatolian marble female idols of Kiliya type.
Steinhardt and his wife paid $1.5 million for the idol in 1993. It fetched $14.5 million at Christie’s auction, but the unidentified telephone buyer walked away. Christie’s still possesses the idol.
Nathan noted that the idol had been discussed in several publications over the years, and displayed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1968 to 1993 and again from 1999 to 2007.
“The Met is a major public institution did not hide that the idol was part of the Guennol Collection,” Nathan wrote. “Turkey failed to contact the Met seeking more information about the origins of the idol – a relatively low bar, all things considered, and one that Turkey should reasonably have surpassed.”