Italy recovers 60 of its archaeological artworks from abroad

Culture Minister Sangiuliano says 'still much to be done'

23 January, 16:22

    (ANSA) - ROME, JAN 23 - There is much to be done on recovering stolen Italian art works abroad despite a string of recent successes including, most recently, some 60 archaeological artifacts from US private and public museums including a famous Pompeian fresco of the baby Hercules killing a snake, Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said in presenting the latest art cop coup Monday.

    "What we are presenting today is the result of a choral activity of international cooperation, but much still needs to be done on this front," he said.

    "We have a duty to guarantee legal certainty also in this area: we must ensure that the works are returned to the places from which they were stolen.

    "Legal certainty must be a guarantee of civilisation and respect for national and international laws, for treaties that prevent the illegal export of works of art," said the minister.

    Italy is among the most plundered countries in the world by tomb raiders and traffickers, since it contains an estimated three quarters of global art.

    Despite the depredations, the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, TPC, have a long and fine record in recovering stolen ancient masterpieces.

    Many of these returns have come via accords with museums abroad, especially in the United States.

    New York's Metropolitan Museum is to return 21 looted antiquities to Italy, the New York Times reported recently in the wake of the announcement of the return of a famed Magna Graecia statuary group from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

    Prosecutors in New York have been seizing the antiquities over the last few months, the New York Times said.

    According to the investigators, eight of the pieces came into the museum's collections via Gianfranco Becchina, a Sicilian art dealer with a gallery in Switzerland who has been the focus of several trials in Italy.

    The works are worth some 13 million dollars.

    Among them, valued at three million, is a colossal marble head of Athena dated to 200 BC and a terracotta Etruscan kylix attributed to the Painter of Villa Giulia that was made around 470 BC, and which the Met bought from Becchina's Basel gallery in 1979. Another piece, a terracotta stauette of a goddess dating to 400 BC, had been donated in 200 by Robin Symes, the British collector involved in the sale of the colossal Venus of Morgantina, acquired by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for 18 million dollars in 1988 and returned to Italy amid fanfare in 2007.

    On August 12 the Getty Museum in Los Angeles said it would return a famed and illicitly exported Ancient Greek statuary group, Orpheus and the Sirens, to Italy.

    The groups includes life-size terracotta figures of a poet and two sirens, or mythical singing mermaids who lured sailors to their deaths.

    It was discovered in Puglia and dates back to the fourth century BC, when Magna Graecia culture was at its peak in southern Italy.

    Italy had been seeking to get it back since 2006.

    Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos recently proved that the group was exported from Italy illegally.

    The prosecutor's efforts also recently resulted in the return to Italy of 142 other antiquities, mostly from the collection of New York financier Michael Steinhardt.

    Bogdanos specified that the Orpheus group had been seized from the Getty, which had thus "left out half the truth" in announcing its return.

    Bogdanos also told ANSA that "we investigate people, not museums," saying that other art dealers in the investigators' cross-hairs included the notorious Giacomo Medici, and another Italian antiquities merchant, Pasquale Camera.

    Another six Ancient Egyptian works that were recently confiscated will be returned to Egypt, prosecutors told the NYT.


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