Criminological Frameworks for Understanding Mexican Antiquities in Contemporary European Auctions

Yates, Donna and Diāna Bērziņa (2022), “Criminological Frameworks for Understanding Mexican Antiquities in Contemporary European Auctions”, in L. Pérez-Prat Durbán, and Z. Ruiz (eds), EL EXPOLIO DE BIENES CULTURALES. Huelva: Universidad de Huelva.


On 3 December 2021, when we were preparing the presentation that inspired this writing, the French auction house Millon held a public sale of antiquities at the premises of the famous Paris Hôtel Drouot. Entitled Les Empires de Lumière, perhaps in reference to the painting series L’Empire des Lumieres by René Magritte, the sale featured about 130 objects which were listed as having originated in pre-Conquest Latin America. None of the objects was offered with adequate provenance information: countries of origin were obscured, ownership histories were incomplete, and proof of legal export was absent. Experts on social media and, swiftly afterwards, the countries of origin complained about the sale, with Mexico, in particular, leading in demands for repatriation within the public forum of the popular press. Over 70 of the objects in the Millon sale could have originated in the territory of Mexico, and it is highly unlikely that any of those objects left Mexico in compliance with the law. Requests to halt the sale were ignored, and the antiquities were sold to anonymous private bidders.

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