Three stone carvings, from before the days of the Spanish conquests, were displayed publicly for the first time on Friday since their return to Mexico. These pre-Hispanic artifacts had been in the safe keeping of the Lowe Art Museum in Miami, Florida, but were returned by that museum in August after it was determined that they had been taken out of Mexico illegally.
According to the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, the stone works are from different periods. The oldest one represents a nobleman or priest wearing ceremonial clothing and dates between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. The most recent one, a serpent’s head, was done sometime between 900 A.D. and 1,200 A.D.
The third carving, made between 700 A.D. and 900 A.D., represents the water god, Tlaloc. Both the Mayans and Aztecs had a water deity which was giver and destroyer of life. This god was in charge of rain, fertility and water, but also brought the hail, thunder, lightning and water’s destructive power.
These artifacts were linked to the illegal dealings of Leonardo Patterson, a Costa Rican dealer who has spent decades selling forgeries and stolen art. He first entered the art world in the 1960s when he was selling pre-Columbian artifacts in New York. He was arrested in 1984 when he tried to sell a Mayan fresco for $250,000, with copies of letters of authentication, to a collector in Boston. The fresco was determined to be a forgery and he was charged with fraud. He has been arrested and charged several times since then regarding pre-Columbian antiquities.
Besides Mexico, Patterson has also been linked to stolen artifacts from Guatemala and Peru. He has attempted to either sell or hide the items in the United States, Spain, and Germany. In 2006, Scotland Yard aided in the recovery of a gold pre-Inca (Moche) headdress from around 700 A.D. Peruvian officials said it was stolen from an ancient tomb in the 1980s and valued at around $2 million.
Police seized 1,200 items in Munich, Germany in 2008. Patterson had been storing the stolen items in a warehouse in Spain for years, but after Peru successfully got the gold headdress returned, he decided to take his collection to Germany. He insisted he had bought these items in Europe, but Peru, Mexico and Guatemala proved their claims and the items were returned.
The Lowe Art Museum is part of the University of Miami. It opened in 1952 and has the distinction of being the first art museum in South Florida. Its collection of 17,500 objects contains items from the Americas including ancient and Native American, the Renaissance, Baroque and Asian art.
Written by: Cynthia Collins