‘Indiana Jones Of Art’ Finds A Priceless 1,600-Year-Old Stolen Mosaic

Arthur Brand has developed a reputation for tracking down stolen art and returning it.

a closeup of a painting's frame
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Arthur Brand has developed a reputation for tracking down stolen art and returning it.

An art historian and appraiser who has earned the nickname “The Indiana Jones of Art” has struck again, tracking down a 16-century-old Cypriot mosaic that depicts early Christian history, BBC News is reporting.

You may be familiar with Indiana Jones, the swashbuckling archaeologist who battles Nazis to keep their hands off priceless archaeological artifacts, and his famous quip “It belongs in a museum!” And while the fictional character was talking about archaeological finds, the same sentiment is true of art, as far as Dutchman Arthur Brand is concerned.

Instead of just battling Nazis, Brand battles unscrupulous art traders. And also Nazis (more on that in a few paragraphs.) Instead of using a whip and gun, Brand uses his quick wit and hours of research.

How He Got The Nickname

As an art appraiser and trader, Brand knows a thing or two about art. He’s intimately familiar with the reasons why art thieves steal, trade, and smuggle priceless pieces. He’s used that knowledge to recover his fair share of missing works.

It all started in 2002, when he realized that he’d been duped by a forgery. He made some phone calls and wound up in partnership with an art thief who turned informant, and before long not only was he tracking down and identifying forgeries, he was tracking down lost and stolen art.

Soon, he was working with neo-Nazis, the Irish Republican Army, the Italian Mafia, and who-knows-what-other unsavory elements, using fake profiles and Google Earth, to facilitate deals to get the pieces back. Some had been stolen by the Nazis. Some had been stolen by (or at the very least, were in the possession of) the Irish Republican Army. In most cases, Brand was able to secure the release of the art pieces to their rightful owners (usually museums.)

Brand says that the terrorist groups steal art to keep as collateral and leverage. For example, say an IRA member is arrested; the group can then promise to return a stolen piece in exchange for the prisoner’s release. Or in the case of the Italian mafia, the group promised to return a stolen piece in exchange for more phone privileges with some of their confederates who were behind bars.

His Latest Find

Brand’s latest find is a 1,600-year-old mosaic from the island of Cyprus, which is in the Mediterranean Sea, about a hundred miles west of the coasts of Lebanon and Syria.

Depicting the Christian apostle Saint Mark, the Byzantine mosaic had spent centuries in the island’s Panayia Kanakaria church, until Turkish military forces invaded the island and looted the artwork.

Unlike so many of the pieces he’s tracked down, the Cypriot mosaic, though it was stolen, was not put to nefarious use. Rather, it had been purchased by a British family who purchased it “in good faith,” having no idea that they’d purchased stolen, and priceless, plundered art.

“They were horrified when they found out that it was in fact a priceless art treasure, looted from the Kanakaria church after the Turkish invasion. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

The mosaic has since been returned to the Cypriot embassy in The Hague. It remains unclear, as of this writing, what will eventually be done with the piece.