Advanced Search                   
  What is ICOM
  Code of Ethics for Museums
  Press Releases

Governing Bodies


Become a member





Press Releases



Illicit trafficking in cultural property

For Immediate Release - May 29, 2001

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) has published Looting in Europe, the fourth volume in the "One Hundred Missing Objects" series.

European countries are not spared the theft and looting of cultural heritage. Religious objects in particular are the main targets of traffickers. Looting in Europe is devoted to the looting that affects religious heritage. Crucifixes, church furniture, gold and silver plate, paintings and other items full of historical and spiritual significance are torn from their original contexts to feed the illicit traffic in cultural property and end up adorning the interiors of private houses.

The book describes the situation in four countries: France, Hungary, Italy and the Czech Republic. Unfortunately these countries are not the only victims of the illegal traffic in religious objects, but they are representative of a situation that is widespread in Europe.

In spite of strict national legislation and specialised police departments, the looting continues and the figures speak for themselves. In Italy, more than 88,000 objects were stolen from religious institutions between 1980 and 1999. In France, there were 160 cases of theft in the 1990s. In Hungary, according to information supplied by police on thefts from churches, there were 53 cases of legal proceedings in 1997, 79 in 1998, and 87 in 1999. Lastly, in the Czech Republic, between 30,000 and 40,000 objects are believed to have been stolen from religious institutions since 1986.

The list of stolen objects in Looting in Europe is by no means exhaustive. It does, however, provide a broad picture of all the different types of items stolen in these countries, ranging from old master paintings or monumental sculptures to ex-votos and candlesticks. As a source of information and a document for raising awareness, the book is widely distributed, to museums, customs authorities, police forces, art dealers and auction houses throughout the world.

The previous volumes in the "One Hundred Missing Objects" series focused successively on Cambodia, Africa and Latin America. These earlier editions have enabled objects to be returned to their countries of origin, and have especially drawn the public's attention to the issue of illicit traffic in cultural property.

Stolen Objects from the Czech Republic Returned

A few weeks after the launch and the dissemination of Looting in Europe in the Czech Republic, 2 objects published in this book were identified and returned. Stolen in 1998, a late 17th century sculpture of the Evangelist Mark , published on p. 103 of the book, was returned by the Dorotheum auction house on 3 April 2001 to the Czech Republic. A Virgin and Child sculpture, stolen in 1992 and published on page 97, was also returned on 25 May 2001 by a Czech antique dealer.

These restitutions are very encouraging. However they must serve as a reminder to potential buyers that they should exercise the greatest vigilance with regard to other similar objects that are offered on the market.

By buying such items, people contribute to the destruction of a country's heritage, and they run the risk of becoming partners in illicit trade.

"One Hundred Missing Objects. Looting in Europe"

Looting in Europe has been published thanks to information from the following bodies, who have actively contributed to the book:

the Architecture and Heritage Department in France,
the Cultural Heritage Directorate in Hungary,
the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Artistic Heritage in Italy,
and the Department of Moveable Heritage, Museums and Galleries in the Czech Republic.

The publication has received financial support from :

the Florence Gould Foundation,
the French Ministry of Culture and Communication,

Contact: Valérie Jullien - Tel. +33 (0) 1.47 34 05 00 - Fax. + 33 (0) -
ICOM - Maison de l'UNESCO, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris cedex 15, France - http://icom.museum




Updated: 11 July 2005