Art Crime

Please note: this is archived course information from 2020 for ARTHIST 230.


This course explores the growing trend of art crime through a focus on theft, illicit antiquities, looting, vandalism and forgery. These will be examined within the context of global and New Zealand case studies, including the theft of the "Mona Lisa" in 1911, Nazi looting in World War II and thefts during the Iraq War in 2003. Ways to curb such crime, particularly the development of art crime squads, will also be discussed.

The area of art crime is interdisciplinary, drawing on the fields of art history, criminology, law, anthropology and archaeology, to name just a few. This is the only art crime course available through a university in Australasia.

Previous students commended the fact that this course was "quite unlike any other in Art History" and that they "enjoyed the diverse topics covered". They also said that it "allowed them to apply their existing knowledge about other subjects such as Renaissance and Pacific art in new ways", such as thinking about their roles in relation to the art market and to art theft.

Students who complete the course have skills which will help them in future studies in Art History or Museums and Cultural Heritage, both here and overseas. You can carry on your interest in this area through supervised projects at both Honours and Masters. Ngarino has supervised students on metals theft in the UK and looting in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, so there is scope for you to develop your research in this field.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you will:

  • Be able to define the key areas of art crime and illustrate each with a case study
  • Be able to identify key components of the art market and art world which influence art crime and how these change in relation to place and time
  • Be able to compare and contrast different case studies of art crime globally, especially in relation to non-Western art
  • Have been encouraged and offered the opportunity to acquire transferrable art historical skills including:
    • The understanding of the social, cultural and political context in which art is made and its later use/function
    • The identification, critical assessment and application of a variety of source materials in the preparation of coursework
    • The writing and editing of course assignments
    • Defining and defending an independent point of view
    • Communicating and presenting ideas orally and in writing
    • Participating constructively in groups


Coursework + exam

Availability 2020

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Dr Ngārino Ellis

Recommended Reading

Bazley, Tom, Crimes of the Art World. New York: Praeger, 2010.

Chappell, Duncan and Saskia Hufnagel, eds., Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation and Prosecution of Art Crime. Farnam, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014.

Jackson, Penelope, Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters. The New Zealand Story. Wellington: Awa Press, 2016.

Manacorda, Stefano and Duncan Chappell, eds., Crime in the Art and Antiquities World: Illegal Trafficking in Cultural Property. New York: Springer, 2011.

Nicholas, Lynn, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Tompkins, Arthur, Plundering Beauty. A History of Art Crime During War. London: Lund, 2018.


Coursework and exam


ARTHIST 230: 15 points


15 points at Stage I in Art History and 30 points passed