US Returns Priceless Antiquities Stolen from Italy by International Ring of Smugglers

The repatriation is the outcome of an extensive collaboration between the countries.

The repatriation ceremony took place on Tuesday in Rome Photo: US Embassy, Rome

A joint task force of the Italian Carabinieri’s art theft squad (TPC) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit of the US Homeland Security department has successfully uncovered and repatriated 26 artifacts looted from Italy and smuggled into the United States in recent decades.

The return of the artworks, at an official handover ceremony at the US Embassy in Rome yesterday, marked the culmination of extensive collaborative investigations between the two nations, which began in the last decade.

According to the New York Times, the objects were recovered from museums, auction houses, private collections, and even a university across several American cities, including New York City, Buffalo, Baltimore, Boston, Miami, and San Diego.

“Italy is blessed with a rich cultural legacy and therefore cursed to suffer the pillaging of important cultural artifacts,” US Ambassador John R. Phillips said during a press conference, expressing his delight that the US was able to return “some important artifacts to their rightful home in Italy.”

The artifacts include a 1,800-year-old Roman marble sarcophagus lid seized in Eastern New York and and a 17th century Venetian bronze cannon seized by customs officials in Boston.

Also included in the lot is a 5th century Etruscan Kalpis vase, recovered from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio. The museum had acquired it in 1982 from the antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici, who provided the museum with “false provenance documentation,” according to the NYT.

In total 26 items were returned to Italy. Photo: US Embassy, Rome

In total 26 items were returned to Italy.
Photo: US Embassy, Rome

Two rare 17th century books which disappeared from the National Historical Library of Agriculture in Rome were also recovered. One was found in a San Francisco-based private collection. The other was found at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which had acquired the antique book at an Italian auction in 2011.

Mariano Mossa, commander of the TCP, explained that it was difficult to provide a reliable estimate of the market value of the recovered artworks, yet stressed the historic and cultural importance of the artifacts. He added that no charges had been filed yet, due to the complex and opaque trails of smuggling cases.

“These are but a fraction of the cultural objects that are circulating on the illicit market today,” Ambassador Phillips warned in his closing remarks. “However, every victory, every piece that is returned, every bit of cultural history that can be restored to its rightful home is a measure of progress.”

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