The end of the strange “Crivelli case”
Christopher Marinello has reason to celebrate. After all, his company is finally shutting down what is “probably the strangest” of the many strange processes that have already passed through him: the controversial “Crivelli affair.”
Last week, the founder and director of Art Recovery International received in his secretary a letter in which the Portuguese State gives up the rare and important painting Virgin and Child and Saints, which the master of the Italian Renaissance Carlo Crivelli concluded in 1487. Known as the Portuguese Virgin is the work that in 2012, businessman Miguel Pais do Amaral was authorized to sell abroad by writer and publisher Francisco José Viegas, then Secretary of State for Culture under the administration of Pedro Passos Coelho.
Five million dollars (about 4.2 million euros) was the offer that Pais do Amaral said he received from a Parisian gallery owner. Behind the scenes, Viegas violated four instances of the bill to allow for sale. A year later, in 2013, when the case became public and the controversy broke, he had left custody. His successor in the same Government, Jorge Barreto Xavier, spoke in an “error” and announced in the Assembly of the Republic to have revoked the authorization of sale. It opened an international demand for the whereabouts of the work proclaimed the objective to make it return to Lisbon. It is now known, however, that he allowed the deadlines to demand that he return by legal means.
The letter that arrived in Marinello in the last week of September, and which the VISION had access to, is signed by Jorge Leonardo, chief of staff of the current Minister of Culture, Luís Filipe de Castro Mendes. It is summarized in a sentence: “Once the process has been examined, it is verified that the previous Government did not make the request for restitution in due time, which expired in April 2015.” It is the response of the executive of António Costa to an interpellation of the firm of lawyers Carlos Pinto de Abreu and Associates. According to VISION, this specialist in international and European law was contracted last year by Moretti Fine Art, a London gallery specializing in old painting and great masters. Moretti, meanwhile, will have been hired by the internationally regarded man as a sort of Sherlock Holmes of the world of the arts: Marinello. This training lawyer specializes in the out-of-court settlement of cases of stolen, looted or improperly marketed works of art, thus continuing to create smoke curtains around the mysterious identity of his clients, the current owners of the painting, all of which until today said is that they are “people as well known as Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber.” People who shortly after the purchase of the Portuguese Crivelli obtained from the British Arts Council a permanent export license to the US, it is not yet clear whether this license was used or if the work remains in the sphere of influence of the Schengen area. he continues to create smoke curtains around the mysterious identity of his clients, the current owners of the painting, all of which he has said so far is that they are “as well known people as Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber.” People who shortly after the purchase of the Portuguese Crivelli obtained from the British Arts Council a permanent export license to the US, it is not yet clear whether this license was used or if the work remains in the sphere of influence of the Schengen area. he continues to create smoke curtains around the mysterious identity of his clients, the current owners of the painting, all of which he has said so far is that they are “as well known people as Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber.” People who shortly after the purchase of the Portuguese Crivelli obtained from the British Arts Council a permanent export license to the US, it is not yet clear whether this license was used or if the work remains in the sphere of influence of the Schengen area.
In any case, for Portugal, the Virgin will have been lost since at least the last semester of the coalition government PSD / CDS-PP: under the laws and community agreements, Portugal had one year to request the return of the work from the moment who knew of his whereabouts.
This happened for the first time in December 2013, when the Virgin was on a London transporter. It happened again in April 2014 when Marinello informed the Portuguese authorities that the work was in his office. But according to an opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of July last year, Portugal probably never had legal margin to demand the return of the work. Neither the United Kingdom nor the United States are signatories to the UNIDROIT International Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Goods.
Francisco José Viegas was in office a year ago when he gave the green light to the sale. Behind the scenes, he ignored a number of negative judgments both in legal matters and technical experts in art history, museology and heritage – both recalling that the piece had been protected by law since 1970. Barreto Xavier would then try to keep secret the contours of the démarches for the return of the work that he himself was delaying and dropping and whose successive impasses and failures were echoed in the press. “I’ve never seen such ineptitude together,” says Christopher Marinello in a brief phone conversation with VISION.
After four years trying to reach agreement with the Portuguese authorities, the tone is acid, rather than celebratory. It also seems to contain a lament. “It is a pity. I have given them [the successive Portuguese officials] great opportunities [to recover the work]. Now they admit that they failed, that they did not act when they should. It’s unfortunate. ”
Marinello contacted Portugal for the first time at the end of 2013, having met in December of that year with the Directorate General of Cultural Heritage. The Portuguese State had never complained or would ever formally demand the return of the work. But he also had not withdrawn the informal complaint launched by Barreto Xavier with the retroactive revocation of the sale license. According to Marinello, these “claims” constituted a cloud over title deed, damaging to any owner. It was in this context of discomfort that one year after the acquisition the customers of Marinello were willing to sell the Virgin to Portugal.
Following the Anglo-Saxon tradition, when she was in Lisbon in December 2013, Marinello proposed that the Virgin be exposed in the country and create a college of patrons to help the public coffers make the acquisition. In January 2014, there were also exchanges on this hypothesis. Then nothing. In the next year and a half, until May 2015, the Portuguese authorities will have left 18 letters and emails from Art Recovery unanswered. The same one that solved international cases like the one of the Matisse that the III Reich expropriated to the Rosenberg family.
Marinello’s last direct contact with Portugal was on July 2, 2015. “The macula they placed on this painting caused and continues to cause significant damage to the sale and the reputation of the parties involved. Until the receipt of a waiver of claim [on the work], my clients reserve the right to seek compensation. “Marinello asked for a speedy response. There is no record that you have ever been sent. A month and a half later, in a letter sent from Help for Needs, Culture, still protected by Barreto Xavier, asked the MNE for help to understand the legal framework and hypothesis of action. Despite the public positioning of demand for the work, Barreto Xavier emphasized that it was necessary to “weigh the costs to the State of eventual claims decisions”. At the time, the MFA was silent. AND,
It was already the Costa executive who, in May of 2016, was contacted by the attorneys of Carlos Pinto de Abreu. At the end of that month, after a meeting in the Ministry of Culture, the society requested the digitization of the “Crivelli process”. Contacted by VISÃO, Carlos Pinto de Abreu declined to comment on the case. Also by telephone, Flavio Gianassi, director of Moretti Fine Art, asked that any questions be directed to him by email. He did not respond at all. Minutes after these contacts, Marinello called: “Only I will talk about this case,” he said. The letter is “exactly what I wanted,” then said, “It’s over. With this declaration, Portugal is unable to try any new actions. That’s all I and my clients need. ”
Considering that she normally stands on the side of the victims, does Marinello consider that the Portuguese Virgin should have returned to Lisbon? “I did the right thing. I offered a solution. I ignored. Portugal loses. ”
VISION also addressed the Directorate General of Cultural Heritage and the Ministry of Culture. Neither the trustees nor the leadership in their dependence provided statements. Both referred to the official documentation: the letter from the Ministry of Culture.
The case on three dates
2012 – Francisco José Viegas signs an export order, authorizing the businessman Miguel Pais do Amaral, who had bought the picture in 2007 to the heirs of the Azorean writer and politician Caetano Bettencourt, to sell the work of Crivelli abroad. In August the Virgin with the Child and Saints arrives in Paris.
2013 – The “Crivelli case” comes to the public becomes immediately controversial. Viegas’ successor, Jorge Barreto Xavier, speaks in “error” and repeals the decision of his predecessor.
2017 – The legal office of the Ministry of Culture informs the Director – General of Cultural Heritage, Paula Araújo da Silva, that the deadline for demanding the return of Crivelli ‘s work to Portugal “ended in April 2015”.