US Will Return Stolen Art to Italy

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement. Photo: Jewel Samad, courtesy AFP.

In a repatriation ceremony held Tuesday afternoon, the US announced its plan to return two stolen artworks to Italy, reported Courthouse News. An ancient Etruscan bronze and an 18th-century painting attributed to Giambattista Tiepolo were stolen decades ago in crimes that remain unsolved.

At only five-inches tall, the bronze statue of Herakles was described by deputy US attorney Richard Zabel as “small but important” during the ceremony, which was held at the headquarters for New York’s federal prosecutors. Dating to the 6th or 5th century BC, the statue depicts the divine hero, known to Romans as Hercules, as quite young. In Greek artworks featuring the demi-god, he is generally bearded.

This bronze statue is being returned to the Museo Oliveriano in Pesaro, Italy.  Photo: via Courthouse News.

This bronze statue is being returned to the Museo Oliveriano in Pesaro, Italy.
Photo: via Courthouse News.

The painting, titled The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement, belonged to a private collector from Turin, and was stolen from the collector’s home on August 24, 1982. The work was slated to be included at a January auction at Christie’s, until Italy’s Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage noticed it in the online catalogue for the sale, where it was valued at more than a half million dollars. The consignor, Dublin’s IAI Investment Art International, agreed to return the piece, and reportedly did not know was stolen.

The statue’s return has taken quite a bit longer, in more ways than one. The sculpture has been missing since January 7, 1964, when robbers stole it from the Museo Oliveriano in Pesaro, Italy. “The thieves that stole the statuette stole other items as well, including ivory tablets of the 9th and 13th centuries, early Christian glass artifacts from the catacombs of Rome, and Italic and Roman statuettes,” said Zabel.

A Swiss dealer sold the sculpture later that decade, and it made its way to New York. Court documents indicate that collector Eugene Thaw, of E.V. Thaw & Co., bought the work “without knowledge of the theft” at some point during the 1960s or ’70s. Thaw consigned the statue with New York gallery Ward & Co. in the 1990s, but it never found a buyer. In 2012, the Italian government tracked down the piece, and began working to see it returned to the Oliveriano.

According an FBI  press release, “Mr. Zabel thanked the Washington Bureau of INTERPOL, which originally brought the painting to the attention of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office following the painting’s importation into the United States. Mr. Zabel further praised the investigative work of the FBI in this matter, and its ongoing efforts to find and repatriate stolen and looted art and cultural property.”

Thaw cooperated with the FBI upon learning the statue’s illicit origins, and agreed to return it. Other stolen artworks have been returned by the US in recent months (see Stolen Peruvian Artifacts Returned by Customs Officials and Toledo Museum of Art Returns Stolen Statue to India).

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