The Baghdad Museum Project

Reported Missing: The Ivory Chair-Back (IM 62722)
By Alessandra Gilibert
Special to the Baghdad Museum Project

This composition of ivory panels delicately carved in relief was found together with similar pieces in a storeroom of a princely palace in the Assyrian capital Kalhu, the biblical Calah and modern Nimrud, in northern Iraq. Originally, the panels fitted a piece of wooden furniture, probably the back of a luxury box-wood chair. In time, the wood rotted away but the ivories survived, to be found by the excavators still in their proper position.

Although unfortunately quite corroded, this one piece is particularly valuable because it is possibly the most complete among the recovered furniture fittings of the first millennium BC as a whole, which are normally heavily fragmentary. The chair-back is dominated by large and rare single panel with a winged sun-disc, a divine symbol repeated in smaller form in the upper parts of most of the other panels. The terminal and central panels depict images of noblemen picking blossoms from a lotus plant, a scene typical in its genre and known from a number of similar pieces. Quite extraordinary, on the other hand, is the miniature scene of the lower cross-piece, depicting a chariot-hunt of wild bulls with an admirable balance between motion and static, narration and composition.

All nine panels are carved in a style characteristic of Northern Syria, a region which the Assyrian state took increasingly under control and from which many luxury goods such as this example of precious furniture were imported, be it in the form of gifts, tributes, war booty or, less likely, market purchase.

Photo source: Treasures of the Iraq Museum, by Dr Faraj Basmachi, Baghdad 1975-76

5,000 years ago

27 years ago

Today - Stolen?
Priceless statue is spotted on CNN, but now is reported stolen. A Sumerian marble head of a woman from Warka dated 3000 B.C., and measuring 20 cm high, has been widely reported in recent days as one of the pieces missing from the Baghdad Museum. But just days ago, this same piece may have been seen on CNN. In an article published online April 21, 2003, by The Nation, Sonyote Waeohonsa, a lecturer of Political Science at Silpakorn University, shares his reaction to footage he saw on CNN showing the aftermath of the looting of the Iraq National Museum. A portion of this account appears to contradict more recent reports:
He breathed a sigh of unfettered relief when he spotted the white marble head of a Sumerian woman, considered one of the finest examples of ancient sculptures still in existence. The sculpture is about 3,000 years old and was discovered in Uruk, the largest urban centre of ancient Mesopotamia, known in modern Iraq as Warka.
See: A Question of Culture, by Subhatra Bhumiprabhas, The Nation

Report Stolen Objects

Objects and documents taken from museums and sites are the property of the Iraqi nation under Iraqi and international law. They are therefore stolen property, whether found in Iraq or other nations. Anyone knowingly possessing or dealing in such objects is committing a crime. Such individuals may be prosecuted under Iraqi law and under the United States National Stolen Property Act. The Iraqi people, as well as members of the Coalition forces and others, are warned not to handle these artifacts. In particular, Americans are asked not to purchase or otherwise trade in such objects as they belong to the nation of Iraq and are stolen property.
In addition to the well-reported efforts made to protect cultural, religious and historic sites in Iraq, CENTCOM has issued instructions to all troops inside Iraq to protect museums and antiquities throughout Iraq. U.S. radio broadcasts throughout Iraq are encouraging Iraqis to return any items taken and are providing instructions on how to do so. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs will help Iraqis and international experts in their efforts to restore artifacts and the catalogs of antiquities that were damaged by looters. A senior advisor in the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, Ambassador John Limbert, will take the lead in this effort.

Secretary Colin L. Powell, April 14, 2003

Reporting the Theft of Cultural Property

To report the loss or theft of fine art or other cultural property, contact your state or local police, or the FBI.  You may use the link ablove to the secure online Report Form to the FBI. Provide as complete a physical description as possible, including any numbers, trademarks, or other markings; color photograph(s); circumstances of loss or theft; value of the item; history of the item if relevant; and any other pertinent information available.

Police recommend using the Getty Object ID Checklist to describe lost or stolen art.  This is the standard method developed by the Getty Information Institute.  Please tell the police if you want the loss or theft reported to the FBI or to INTERPOL on your behalf.

U.S. law enforcement: Forward complete details of the loss or theft, including police report, to your INTERPOL State Liaison Office for forwarding to the INTERPOL-U.S. National Central Bureau. INTERPOL publishes an International Stolen Property Notice for a given item only if there is sufficient identification information and if the item is either of substantial commercial or cultural value, or was stolen under particularly serious circumstances.

More about the Getty Object ID Checklist

Object I.D., a service run by the Council for the Prevention of Art Theft, is an international standard for describing art, antiques and antiquities designed to combat art theft. Developed by the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1993, it has since been adopted by major law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Scotland Yard and Interpol; major museums, art trade groups and cultural organizations; and insurers including AXA Art.

All collectors should clearly document their objects. Carefully prepared records can be useful in managing your collection, and essential in helping to recover lost or stolen art objects.

Based on the Getty Object ID Checklist, the following is a general list of essential pieces of information that will help you to compile your own records. Just print out one document for each object that you own and store them in a safe place.

  • Artist/Maker
    Who made the Object? This may be the name of a known individual (artist), a company (e.g. Tiffany), or a cultural group (e.g. Hopi).

  • Type of Object
    (painting, sculpture, clock, mask, etc.).

  • Title
    Does the object have a title by which it is known and might be identified?

  • Date
    When was the object made? (e.g. 1893, early 17th century, Late Bronze Age)?

  • Dimensions
    What is the size and/or weight of the object? Specify which unit of measurement is being used (e.g. cm, in) and to which dimensions the measurement refers (e.g. height, width, depth).

  • Materials
    What materials is the object made of (e.g. brass, wood, oil on canvas).

  • Description
    Write a short description. What does the picture represent (e.g. landscape, battle, still life). This can include additional information that helps to identify the object (e.g. color, shape, where it was made).

  • Condition
    Describe the condition of the object or attach a recent conservator¹s report.

  • Distinguishing Features
    Does the object have any physical characteristics that could help to identify it (e.g. damage, repairs).

  • Inscriptions and Markings
    Are there any identifying markings, numbers or inscriptions on the object (e.g. signature, dedication, title, maker's marks).

  • Provenance
    List ownership history if information is available. When did you buy the object and from whom did you buy it?

  • Bibliography
    (Every time your item is mentioned in print)

    Give a complete citation: author, title, publication, page number, and date. Include newspapers, if relevant.

  • Purchase Price and Date of Purchase

  • Value
    List purchase price or value of latest appraisal.