In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art Crime

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of Art Crime
  • Journals
  • Art Theft
  • Art Forgery and Fraud
  • Looting and Illegal Excavation
  • Art Vandalism and Iconoclasm
  • Policing Art Crime
  • Art Crime as Organized Crime
  • Graffiti and Illegal Street Art
  • Expanding the Boundaries of Art Crime: Wildlife, Human Remains, Manuscripts, and Fossils
  • Popular Case Studies of High-Profile Art Crimes

Criminology Art Crime
Naomi Oosterman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0314


Art crime is a type of crime that quite often triggers the public’s fascination. Images of gentlemen thieves, large-scale heists, and elites illicitly engaging with high-priced works of art are one of the first things that come to mind. However, art crime is a type of crime that presents severe problems in countries around the world. First defined simply as “criminally punishable acts that involve works of art” in Art Crime by J. E. Conklin (Westport, CT: Praeger,1994: 3), the crime was initially classified into four broad categories: theft of art and antiquities, looting and plunder of antiquities, vandalism, and fakery and forgery. Art crime is not an unambiguous term: it does not consist of a single definition and it encompasses many different types of crime, also outside of the categories mentioned in the aforementioned Art Crime. Art crime has been considered a victimless crime, but as the works presented here show very clearly, the damages that these types of crimes do are often severely threatening to local communities, national heritage, and people’s identity. Art crime is a serious crime that has therefore seen increasing involvement of law enforcement to counteract it. Different countries implement different strategies to counteract this crime, where Italy has emerged as one of the leaders of art crime policing. The diversity however in definitions and categories of art crime, make the often transnational crime difficult to enforce. Additionally, art crime, and especially the trafficking of illegally excavated and looted antiquities fuels global inequality between what authors consider to be “source” and “market” countries, a discussion that is omnipresent within this bibliography. More recently, authors started to make parallels between different types of art crime, and organized crime, with primary scholarship focusing on undermining, money laundering, and smuggling and trafficking. This bibliography presents an overview of key sources, from a criminological perspective, on art crime. It is divided between the initial classifications of art crimes by Conklin 1994, under General Overviews of Art Crime, with added citations of distinct categories such as graffiti and illicit street art, manuscript and rare book theft, human remains trafficking, wildlife trafficking, and fossils. And, since it does trigger the public imagination, this bibliography presents an overview of some of the most striking narratives around highly publicized art crime cases. This bibliography presents articles from a predominantly criminological perspective, so readers interested in the legal discussion around art and heritage crime should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Classics article “Looting and the Antiquities Market”.

General Overviews of Art Crime

A definition of what constitutes art crime was, for the first time, discussed in book-length in Conklin 1994. Kerr 2012 provides a criminological definition of art crime. Contemporary scholarship on the crime from the perspectives of law, criminology, and art history, can be found in the chapters in the edited volume Hufnagel and Chappell 2019. Durney and Proulx 2011 provides an accessible overview of art crime, including its scholarship and classification into five different categories of crime. General discussion of art crime from academic and non-academic authorship can be found in the volumes Charney 2009 and Charney 2016. The edited volume Chappell and Hufnagel 2014 focuses on law enforcement practices in relation to art crime in Europe, North America, and Australasia. The chapters presented in Grove and Thomas 2014 and Kila and Balcells 2014 provide a broader discussion of cultural property and heritage crime. Bronswijk and Van Gessel 2020 provides a detailed overview of the approaches to art crime in the Netherlands. Oosterman and Yates 2021 is a volume that focuses purely on empirical and theoretical observations of art crime embedded in a sociological and criminological framework.

  • Bronswijk, R., and F. Van Gessel. 2020. De aanpak van kunstcriminaliteit in Nederland. Justitiële verkenningen 46.4: 54–62.

    DOI: 10.5553/JV/016758502020046004005

    Article written in Dutch by the head of the Dutch art and antiques unit and a senior policy advisor of cultural objects with the division of the serious crime unit. The article discusses the approach to art crime in the Netherlands.

  • Chappell, D., and S. Hufnagel, eds. 2014. Contemporary perspectives on the detection, investigation and prosecution of art crime: Australasian, European and North American perspectives. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

    This comprehensive volume contains several chapters focusing on the law enforcement of art crime in Australia, North America, Asia, and Europe.

  • Charney, N., ed. 2009. Art and crime: Exploring the dark side of the art world. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

    Collection of essays by scholars and practitioners concerning art crime. Authorships from the fields of criminology, law, and policing.

  • Charney, N., ed. 2016. Art crime: Terrorists, tomb raiders, forgers and thieves. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Edited volume with scholarly and professional contributions with an interdisciplinary approach focusing on art theft, fraud and forgery, looting, and organized crime.

  • Conklin, J. E. 1994. Art crime. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    Seminal and scholarly monograph that conceptualized art crime as a field of study for the first time.

  • Durney, M., and B. Proulx. 2011. Art crime: A brief introduction. Crime, Law and Social Change 56.2: 115.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10611-011-9316-3

    A brief survey overview of art crime and its scholarship, offender motivations, and classification into different categories. Builds on the work of Conklin 1994.

  • Grove, L. E., and S. Thomas, ed. 2014. Heritage crime: Progress, prospects, and prevention. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This edited volume presents a collection of articles dedicated to conceptualizing heritage crime in an interdisciplinary perspective. Focuses on the discussion of heritage crime, over art crime, and provides detailed discussions of heritage crimes in a global perspective, providing case-studies on different types of heritage crimes in a wide range of locations around the world.

  • Hufnagel, S., and D. Chappell, eds. 2019. The Palgrave handbook on art crime. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    A landmark volume on art crime from a range of scholarly perspectives such as criminology, sociology, law, archaeology, and art history. This is the most comprehensive volume, spanning more than nine hundred pages and thirty-nine original chapters, on art crime up to date. It provides the reader with case-studies, theoretical advancements, and empirical work on a broad range of topics.

  • Kerr, J. 2012. Art crime. In The SAGE dictionary of criminology. 4th ed. Edited by E. McLaughlin, and J. Muncie, 18–20. London: SAGE.

    A wide-ranging dictionary survey of dominant theoretical concepts in the field of criminology. An entry on art crime is provided by John Kerr, pp. 18–20.

  • Kila, J., and M. Balcells, eds. 2014. Cultural property crime: An overview and analysis of contemporary perspectives and trends. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill.

    Edited volume discussing various forms of art crime. Primarily from a criminological perspective.

  • Oosterman, N., and D. Yates, eds. 2021. Crime and art: Sociological and criminological perspectives of crimes in the art world. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    Edited volume that focuses on data-driven research on art crime from a criminological and sociological perspective.

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