Italian Police Recover a Long-Lost Roman Marble Head Nearly 50 Years After Its Theft

The precious antiquity was traced to a private collection in Switzerland.

Dr. Daniela Porro and the president of the Fondazione Torlonia, Alessadro Poma Murialdo. Photo: Fondazione Torlonia.

After nearly half a century, authorities have returned a stolen Roman marble head to Villa Albani Torlonia in Rome, Italy.

Thieves had snatched the head of the Hydrophora, which is part of a larger statue, in 1978 along with four other priceless objects. The Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Italy has recovered the piece and returned it to its former home, under the guidance of brigadier general Vincenzo Molinese.

The rescue mission began in February 2015, when the squad received a tip from a German scholar who believed he had seen the precious item in an art publication, listed as part of a private collection in Zurich, Switzerland.

Rome’s Special Superintendency for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape, a peripheral office of the Ministry of Culture worked with the Carabinieri, Rome’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, and Swiss authorities to verify and locate the antiquity. The wife of the deceased collector had inherited the piece in good faith, according to the authorities.

Head of Hydrophora returned to Villa Albani Torlonia. Photo: Fondazione Torlonia.

Its successful repatriation last year was only recently announced after a careful restoration process. During a special ceremony to celebrate the head’s homecoming, it was reattached to its long-lost torso in the presence of the Carabinieri who had helped ensure its safe return.

“The conservation of heritage is the foundation that guides all of our activities. The return of the head of the Hydrophora therefore acquires a symbolic value with respect to this commitment, which is also reflected in the restorations we are presenting today,” said the foundation’s president Alessandro Poma Murialdo.

Albani Torlonia is a grand neoclassical villa built in the 18th century to house the collection of antiquities amassed by Cardinal Alessandro Albani. Over the years, the Torlonia family, who bought the house and grounds in 1866, has expanded and conserved it. It remains in the care of the Torlonia Foundation to this day.

The foundation’s private collection consists of 620 museum quality Greek and Roman sculptures that went on public display for the first time in several decades in early 2020. It also boasts a special Torlonia Laboratory for the restoration of ancient marbles, which welcomes collaboration, research and educational initiatives with universities and partner institutions.

The Italian Carabinieri’s art squad was founded in 1969, becoming the first specialist police force of its kind in the world. It has four departments dedicated to archaeology, antique dealing, fakes and contemporary art.

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