MILAN – An 8th- or 9th-century Bodhisattva sculpture that was looted from the Devisthan Kundalpur Temple in Kurkihar, India has been recovered in Italy following a decades-long search.
Kurkihar, located near the sacred city of Gaya, was a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage center between the 9th and 12th centuries and has yielded more than 226 bronzes famously called the Kurkihar hoard. Many stone and bronze sculptures from the site have been plundered to fuel the international black market in antiquities.
The stone Buddha survived undisturbed for almost 1,200 years in the Devisthan Kundalpur Temple until some time around the year 2000, when it was illicitly removed and smuggled out of India. It has been missing for nearly two decades. Working with Vijay Kumar of the India Pride Project, Art Recovery’s Christopher A. Marinello located the missing sculpture and negotiated an unconditional release from an anonymous Italian collector just before Christmas.
This is the second major recovery of an item of Indian cultural heritage in two months through the joint efforts of Art Recovery International and the India Pride Project. The first was the successful repatriation of an 8th-century Goat Head Yogini statue from a garden in the English countryside in December 2021.
Christopher A. Marinello, a lawyer and the founder of Art Recovery International, said, “Vijay provided me with his most-wanted list of looted art and we went to work from there. The archival documentation maintained by the India Pride Project is essential and damning evidence of the illegal plundering of India’s cultural heritage over the last several decades,” he said, adding, “There is more to ‘climate change’ than the weather. The climate and appetite in the West for unprovenanced antiquities is changing rapidly. Collectors are being criminally charged worldwide and collections are being seized as more and more jurisdictions let it be known that it is unacceptable to possess looted and stolen art. A window of opportunity exists for possessors of stolen artwork to come forward voluntarily before law enforcement comes knocking at the door.”
Vijay Kumar, Founder of the India Pride Project, said, “We have been searching for this Buddha for almost eight years and were close to securing it when it was consigned for sale by a French dealer. The art market performed their usual optical due diligence by obtaining worthless provenance certificates from agencies that don’t have the necessary means to conduct such checks, especially for Indian art. However, we were unable to seize the artefact in France given its poor legal framework and pathetic past track record of restitutions,” he said, adding, “We were overjoyed that Art Recovery International managed to track the present possessor. With cooperation from law enforcement in India and the Archaeological Survey of India, a solid case was constructed, including published journal images of the Buddha in situ and police records of the theft. Armed with this material, Marinello negotiated an unconditional surrender of the Buddha to the Government of India without compensation.”
The Buddha sculpture was formally repatriated on February 10 at the Consulate General of India in Milan.
# # #