The U.S. Judge Rejects Turkey’s Request for Stargazer’s Return

The U.S. Judge From New York Rejected March 8 Turkey’s Request to Return the Ancient Marble Sculpture Called Stargazer.

Mar 11, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
U.S. Judge
[Source photo: Christie’s | Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

The U.S. judge ruled against Turkey on March 8. Overall, Turkey thought the ancient marble sculpture called “Stargazer” belongs to its nation. The reason for the return to this state’s lawsuit was that the statue was stolen. But, it seems that Turkey will not get back its national treasure. The reason for this is the decision of the judge who believes Turkey waited too long to file a lawsuit.


The U.S. Judge Said Turkey Sat on Their Hands and Did Nothing

Auction of Ancient Anatolian Guennol Stargazer statue, Christie’s Auction House in New York.


The Guennol Stargazer is around 6,000 years old. Overall, Turks manufactured it between 4800 and 4100 B.C.E in what is now Western Turkey’s Manisa Province. This artwork is unique and has iconic value. What remains unclear is the question of its ownership. In 2017, as part of a cooperation between Christie’s and Michael Steinhardt, it sold for $12.7 million. Tukey submitted a request to the American Court referencing to a 1906 legal standard.

This standard confers legal authority on the nation over its exported cultural assets. As previously said, Turkey sued the auction house because they wanted the piece back.  But, a New York judge’s decision differed from the Turkish request. “Turkey sat on its hands despite signals from its own Ministry of Culture that the Stargazer was in New York City”, reads the decision from New York’s United States Court of Appeals for the Second District.


A similar stargazer idol from Turkey at the Cycladic Art Museum in Athens, Greece (image via Flickr)


Also, the U.S. judge said it is completely meaningless that until 2017, Turkey did not pay attention to this problem or work on solving it. Before the statue reached Christie’s, it had been on the open market since the end of the twentieth century. Also, some traces show art dealer J.J. Klejman sold the statue to collectors named Alastair and Edith Martin, in NY.


The Flow of Stargazer’s Movement

Michael Steinhardt
Michael Steinhardt


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From 1968 until 1993, the Martins lent the item to the Metropolitan Museum of Art before selling it to Merrin Gallery. That same year, Michael Steinhardt bought the Stargazer from the gallery. From 1999 until 2007, the idol returned to The Met. After ten years, Steinhardt offered the item for sale through Christie’s, but the buyer never actually received it. A few weeks later, Turkey filed a lawsuit to demand the return of the idol.


The auction house did not want to comment on this matter. But, Steinhard’s lawyer did comment. He said the U.S. Judge’s decision shows Steinhard was “an ordinary purchaser of antiquities without the same duty to investigate provenance as art dealers or museums”. But, data and his status can show different information. He is a billionaire with $200 million worth of collection.


The French Auction Market
Christie’s Paris sale room of the Hubert de Givenchy collection. Photo: © Nina Slavcheva. Courtesy of Christie’s.


Former District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. said Steinhardt has a great desire to possess looted artifacts. Also, the nations from which these treasures come are deprived of the right to possess them. Tukey’s representative spoke about his disappointment with the U.S. Judge’s decision. He said this decision has a negative effect on all countries that want to return their lost wealth.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.