13 March 2020:
In November 2019, an independent scholar brought new research to our attention relating to the provenance of an Indian 16–17th century bronze of Saint Tirumankai Alvar which was acquired by the Ashmolean from Sotheby's in 1967. Research in the photo archives of the IFP-EFEO (Institut Français de Pondichery and the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient) appears to show the same bronze in the temple of Shri Soundarrajaperumal Kovil in Tamil Nadu in 1957. The Ashmolean was informed that the bronze is one of a number of bronzes in collections in Europe and the United States identified by this researcher through the IFP-EFEO archive.
Although there was no claim against the object at that time, the Museum officially brought the matter to the attention of the Indian High Commission in London on 16 December 2019 requesting any further information (including possible police records) that would aid us in establishing the work’s provenance and noting that we were open to holding further discussions around the possible repatriation of the sculpture. The Indian High Commissioner acknowledged our letter on 24 December and informed us that the matter and the information we provided had been forwarded to the Indian authorities and expressed their appreciation that the University of Oxford and the Ashmolean had acted proactively in this matter.
The Museum received a formal claim from the Indian High Commissioner for the restitution of the object on 3 March 2020. We are now carrying out ‘due-diligence’ procedures. A member of Ashmolean staff will visit India in the coming months to review records held by the Indian authorities to build a more accurate provenance for the object, and to liaise with them on the next steps.
The Museum acquired the statue in good faith in 1967. According to the Sotheby's catalogue the bronze was sold from the collection of the collector Dr J R Belmont (1886-1981). We currently have no indication of how the bronze entered his collection.
Updates on the case will be published on this page when they are available.
Claire Parris, Press Officer
+44 (0)1865 278 178
Figure of the saint Tirumankai Alvar
Tamil Nadu, south India 16–17th century
Solid cast bronze, 57.5 x 23 x 21 cm
Photo: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford