Published 13 March 2020, updated January 2021:


Cast bronze sculpture of a standing figure of a Buddha.

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.  A member of Ashmolean staff had planned to visit India in May 2020 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. However, all travel plans had to be postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. The process of due-diligence will resume and a visit to India arranged as soon as it is safe for staff to travel internationally on University business again.

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.


Further information:
Claire Parris, Press Officer
+44 (0)1865 278 178

University of Oxford Procedures for Claims for the Return of Cultural Objects:

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