Robert K. Wittman

April 9: Art sleuth to speak

Famed art sleuth Wittman to speak at UD's Trabant Theatre

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9:27 a.m., March 6, 2013--On April 9, Renowned art investigator, Robert K. Wittman will describe his exploits to an audience at the University of Delaware Trabant University Center Theatre at 6:30 p.m., on Tuesday, April 9.

Wittman founded the FBI’s National Art Crime Team and, during his 20-years as a special agent, recovered more than $300 million of stolen art and cultural patrimony.

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During his service in the FBI, Wittman roamed the world, often impersonating shady characters. He consorted with Corsican crime figures, Polish thieves, the descendants of a pilfering Civil War soldier, and even an unwitting housekeeper to retrieve many priceless objects including a Rembrandt self-portrait, Geronimo’s eagle feather war bonnet, Goya paintings, pre-Columbian gold, a 50-pound crystal ball from Beijing’s Forbidden City, and one of the original copies of the Bill of Rights.

Since retiring from the FBI in 2008, he authored the best-seller Priceless – How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, a book described by Randy Kennedy of The New York Times as a “rollicking memoir” that  reads “as if an art history textbook got mixed up at the printer with a screenplay for The Wire.”

Today, Wittman presides over a firm that is engaged with international art recovery, protection, and security. He also has served as a member of the Department of State’s Cultural Antiquities Task Force.

Wittman says that he does not miss the days when he carried three cell-phones and had to remember what persona to attach to each. His undercover life gave way to palpable relief. “On my first day of retirement, I woke up feeling warm and happy.”

No longer in a shadow-world of “stings,” Wittman has emerged as a public figure who continues to consult with the FBI, but also works with insurance companies, institutions, and private clients to locate and safe-guard cultural property. “I can help a lot more people now,” he says.

Wittman’s passion for this work comes from his belief that art crime has societal repercussions: “It’s not only about money. When cultural objects are stolen we lose our heritage and history. We’re letting our grandchildren down.”

In his talk on April 9, Wittman will discuss some of his cases and show actual video footage of sting operations. He also will talk about the careers that exist in the field of investigating and protecting against art crime. 

The lecture will be followed by a reception and book signing at the Trabant University Center. The program is free and open to the public, but seating is limited.  Registration is recommended at and can be completed at this website

Parking is available at the garage adjacent to Trabant. 

This program is a collaboration between the undergraduates of the Art History Club and the alumni of the Friends of Art History.

Support for the event comes from UD’s Allocations Board, the Friends of Art History, the UD Alumni Association, the Art History Club, CAPE, the Center for Material Culture Studies, the Art Conservation Club, the League of Historians, and Phi Alpha Delta.  

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