| 24 March 2023, Friday |

Turkey cannot recover ancient ‘Stargazer’ idol from Christie’s, according to U.S. court

A U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday that Turkey cannot reclaim a 6,000-year-old marble statue from Christie’s and hedge fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt because it took an unreasonable amount of time to make the claim that it had been robbed.

Turkey “had reason to know” by the 1990s that the “Guennol Stargazer” might have been illegally transferred from its territory, according to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.

It said Turkey therefore “slept on its rights” by waiting to sue Christie and Steinhardt, the idol’s owner, until April 2017, when the auction house listed the Stargazer for sale.

“Turkey sat on its hands despite signals from its own Ministry of Culture that the Stargazer was in New York City,” Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote for a three-judge panel. “Turkey’s failure to bring its claim (or even investigate it) until 2017 was unreasonable.”

Lawyers for Turkey, Christie’s and Steinhardt did not immediately respond to requests for comment

The Stargazer is about nine inches (22.9 cm) tall, and named because its head tilts slightly upward toward the sky.

In claiming ownership, Turkey cited the 1906 Ottoman Decree, which asserts broad rights of antiquities.

But the country said it would be impossible to investigate everything in its “vast trove of unknown ancient artifacts,” and it was “neither aware, nor should it have been aware” of its claim to the Stargazer until Christie’s described its limited provenance in its auction catalog.

Pooler, however, said the Stargazer had long been on public display, including more than three decades at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and that throughout the 1990s the culture ministry published essays and presentations about it.

“The Stargazer has not lived in secrecy,” Pooler wrote.

Steinhardt and his wife paid $1.5 million for the Stargazer in 1993. Christie’s auctioned it for $14.5 million, but the buyer walked away.

Wednesday’s decision upheld a Sept. 2021 ruling by U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, which followed an eight-day trial. Nathan was later elevated to the appeals court.

The case is Republic of Turkey v Christie’s Inc et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals No. 21-2485.

  • Reuters