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Updated: June 5, 2013 15:26 IST

Police seek details of 11th century bronze sculpture that was traced to Canberra

A. Srivathsan
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11th Century Chola Natraja sculpture acquired by National Gallery of Australia from Subhash Kapoor in 2008.
National Gallery of Australia 11th Century Chola Natraja sculpture acquired by National Gallery of Australia from Subhash Kapoor in 2008.

Three months after The Hindu reported that the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra had bought an 11th century Nataraja bronze from Subhash Chandra Kapoor, the Tamil Nadu police have sent out a letter rogatory seeking details of the sculpture and its purchase. The Gallery, which is an Australian government agency, has remained tight-lipped on any follow-up on the issue.

The U.S.-based antique dealer was arrested in Germany and extradited to India in July for his alleged role in theft of multiple temple icons. A letter rogatory is a formal written request sent from a court seeking assistance.

Letters have also been sent to the U.S. seeking details of the $20-million worth of art objects seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in July from a Manhattan storage facility run by Kapoor.

Link to Kapoor

In August, The Hindu published a report on the Chola period Nataraja being in the National Gallery and its link to Kapoor. Gallery officials had then said an expert panel would review the purchase, and that the findings would be made public.

But even after three months, details about the history of ownership of the bronze remain undisclosed. Replying to a recent e-mail from this correspondent, officials stated that the gallery had followed due diligence in the purchase of the sculpture and “has provenance documentation from the early 1970s to support the acquisition.”

A provenance certificate records details of successive owners of an artefact.

When pressed, the gallery authorities replied that at this stage they were “not releasing any of this information.”

The letter rogatory sent by the police assumes significance in this context, since it would compel the gallery to share details and help trace the trail of the Nataraja, believed to have been stolen from an obscure temple in rural Tamil Nadu.

The National Gallery neither confirmed nor denied receiving a letter from the Tamil Nadu Police.

All that it would admit was that it was “monitoring the investigation and will continue to work closely with authorities on this issue.”

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