The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) in New York is embroiled in another looting scandal, shortly after another dispute over a Greek ancient vase last week. The Met has been asked to hand over an ancient marble bull’s head with a history of over 2,300 years, which is suspected to be a stolen relic from Lebanese Civil War in the ‘80s. Though the relic is now impounded by prosecutors, things got complicated as the owners of the bull’s head have filed a lawsuit against Lebanese officials and New York prosecutors.
The bull’s head is owned by Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado. The Beiterwaltes bought the bull’s head from an art dealer in London in 1996 for over US$1 million , then sold it to a collector, Michael H. Steinhardt, in 2010.
Michael H. Steinhardt
In 2010, Steinhardt lent the bull’s head to the Met but later returned the relic to the couple and asked for compensation after learning its controversial provenance. The Beierwaltes lent the bull’s head to the Met in 2011 until last month. Following an order from New York prosecutors, the Met surrendered the bull’s head, which is believed to be a stolen item.
According to the Museum and Lebanese officials, the bull’s head was first recorded in 1967 by a Swiss archaeologist unearthing the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, Lebanon. Located in southern Lebanon, Sidon was the main city where Phoenician used to live. Eshmun was a Phoenician god of healing.
Lebanese Civil War lasted 15 years and caused an estimated 120,000 fatalities
The bull’s head was then stored in Byblos (image below) in Sothern Sidon. During Lebanese Civil War in the ‘80s, numerous relics were looted in Byblos. Lebanese officials believed the bull’s head was stolen at that time.
The Beierwaltes have sued Lebanon’s antiquities office to challenge the decision, saying there is no evidence to prove the relic is a stolen item. Besides, no action has been taken for more than 50 years by Lebanese officials to report the theft or to reclaim the relic. The couple also filed a lawsuit against the district attorney hoping to take the bull’s head back.
Last week, the Met surrendered a Greek vase which might have been looted from Italy in the ‘70s. The Value will keep you all posted on any latest developments.