Friday, 19 November 2010

Italy Announces Return from US of 2 Stolen Statues

The Associated Press has an article ('Italy announces return from US of 2 stolen statues', Nov 19th 2010) discussing the return to Italy from the US of two ancient statues stolen from Italian museums in the 1980s. One of them ended up in the hands of a New York Dealer and the other a New York collector.
Pasquale Muggeo of the Carabinieri paramilitary police told reporters Friday they had recovered a bronze statue of the Greek god Zeus and a marble female torso. Both date from the end of the 1st century. Each is valued at about euro 500,000 ($680,000). The bronze was stolen from the National Museum in Rome in 1980; the marble statue disappeared in 1988 from an archaeological museum south of Rome. No arrests have been made in either theft. Authorities said those who owned them were unaware of their provenance. U.S. customs and immigration officials aided in the investigation.
An interesting sideline on the story of one of them is given in another news article: Italian policeman in New York finds stolen statue also released today. According to this:
The return from the United States of a precious Roman artefact stolen from an Italy museum is thanks to an Italian policeman who strolled through New York on holiday this year, officials said on Friday. Walking down Madison Avenue, the officer from Italy's cultural heritage police noticed the marble torso on sale for 350,000 dollars (256,000 euros) in a gallery's display, they said. The policeman took a picture on his mobile phone and asked the gallery owner about its origin. The owner's reticence made him suspicious and he looked up the statue among stolen artefacts on his return to Italy, finding it had been robbed in 1988 from the archaeological museum in the town of Terracina south of Rome. Alerted by Italian police, US customs officials seized the work and returned it to Italian authorities on Friday.
So the Madison Avenue gallery owner was "unaware of the provenance" but "reticent" to talk about its origins? Why would that make anyone who knows the antiquities market even a little bit suspicious?

Anyhow the same article also gives us the story behind the other object in the "package", the small bronze statue representing Zeus or Poseidon ("and valued at 500,000 euros").
The bronze statue, which was stolen from the National Roman Museum in 1980, was sold by Sotheby's auction house in New York in 2006 and later put on display at an exhibition in Cleveland in the US state of Ohio. Its owner, an American woman, has agreed to return it to Italy.
I expect David Gill will be telling us more about this one.

So how did they get into the US without Italian export licences? This is precisely what the cultural property MOUs are there to prevent, isn't it?

David Gill has indeed come up with the goods ('The bronze Zeus returned to Italy"). The bronze statue was stolen from the National Roman Museum in 1980. By 1984 it was the property of Edward H. Merrin ("Mr Merrin purchased it from a dealer who had obtained it from a Swiss collector in the late 1960s") and was published by Joyce Geary Volk ("A Lysippan Zeus", California Studies in Classical Antiquity 3, 2 [1984] 272-83). At the time of its exhibition in Cleveland it was in the well-known Fleischman collection.

See also: AP 'Italy Cop On NY Vacation Spots Stolen Statue'

and Roamin' cop nabs hot art, New York Post November 20, 2010 (with a picture). [also note the comment by Seairail, 20th Nov 2:04 PM: "So, where's the rest of the story? Who's OUT the money?"]

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