During the spring of 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a stop, but the illicit market for artifacts and works of art has continued On the contrary, traffickers in cultural heritage have taken advantage of the decrease in surveillance of archaeological sites and museums to dig up artifacts and steal with impunity.
Thanks to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, which identified measures to be taken to prevent the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property, we have been able to combat, at least in part, this black market. Although it is thought that the works returned do not exceed 5% of the total traffic, many efforts have been made and the situation is improving.
According to the UN, the illicit trade in cultural goods moves 10 billion dollars a year and is one of the main sources of funding for criminal and terrorist organizations that deprive people of their memory, history and identity and become a threat to international peace and security. This black market is now in third place, in terms of volume, after drugs and weapons, and includes, among others, theft for hire, looting in times of war, illegal excavations, counterfeiting and recycling and purchases in flea markets without certification. It is difficult to identify and involves very different people and figures: grave robbers, fences, dealers, intermediaries, restorers, transporters, experts, museum curators and collectors.
The Horizon 2020 Netcher project (NETwork and social platform for Cultural Heritage Enhancing and Rebuilding) was set up to develop a network of experts involved in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods and to define a map of good practices for the protection of cultural heritage.
As a conclusion of this project, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice in partnership with the Italian Institute of Technology (Center for Cultural Heritage Technology) and Science Gallery Venice curated an exhibition in AR (augmented reality) focused on four iconic art pieces as examples of some of the different types of looting of cultural heritage: geopolitical crisis destruction ( the Severan Arch of Palmyra in Syria, destroyed by ISIS in 2015), the broad net of illicit traffic (Etruscan hydria vase by the Micali Painter, stolen and returned in 2014), commissioned theft (Klimt’s Portrait of a Lady, stolen in 1997), and war spoils distribution (Paolo Veronese’s Wedding of Cana , brought to Paris by Napoleon in 1797).
Advanced technology not only allows governments to detect authentic from false artifacts,, but it also provides new life to assets that would otherwise not be visible to us all, being them in remote museums or even having undergone massive destruction. Thanks to specific research tools and devices as well as digital, virtual and augmented reality, today we can have a deeper understanding of these objects and of the importance of keeping on fighting against illicit trafficking of cultural heritage.
Click on one of the four links above to begin your visit to the virtual exhibition. You can access the built in web objects on the site directly, but to use the Augmented Reality effects, you will need Instagram installed on your mobile device.