The stolen antiquities that were on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Ave., were returned to the Italian government on Tuesday.
The Marble Head of Athena, which dates to around 200 B.C. is one of 58 ancient artworks returned to Italy by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. (Molly Crane-Newman)
The 21 pieces of artwork from the Met were among 58 pieces, valued at $19 million, that were repatriated at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
In a wooden box marked, “FRAGILE” sat the “Marble Head of Athena,” which dates back to about 200 B.C. and was on display at the Met since 1996. It wound up there after being looted from a temple in central Italy and then trafficked to the U.S. by Giacomo Medici, according to the Manhattan DA’s office.
A “White-Ground Kylix” drinking cup from 470 B.C., in the museum’s possession since 1979, was broken by the time it was illegally sold in Switzerland.
The Marble Head of a Horned Youth, which dates to 300-100 B.C. (Molly Crane-Newman)
The Manhattan prosecutors also returned the “Bronze Bust of a Man” dating to around the first-century B.C. that has long been in the private collection of an unnamed Manhattan resident. That piece was trafficked to the U.S. by Paris-based dealer Robert Hecht to a Swiss dealer, authorities said.
The Bronze Bust of a Man dates to around the late first century B.C. (Molly Crane-Newman)
Most of the stolen works were looted from poorly-guarded archaeological sites in Italy. Investigators said all were trafficked by Medici, Giovanni Franco Becchina, Pasquale Camera, and Edoardo Almagiá and sold to one of the world’s most prominent ancient art collectors Michael Steinhardt.
The DA’s office recovered the pieces after executing a series of search warrants in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations. The agency’s acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky Patel described the expensive artworks as having “incalculable cultural value.”
Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said exposing the schemes that led to the antiquities’ presence in the U.S. took years of diligent investigative work.
Italy’s Counsel General Fabrizio Di Michele speaks at a repatriation ceremony at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. (Molly Crane-Newman)
“These 58 pieces represent thousands of years of rich history, yet traffickers throughout Italy utilized looters to steal these items and to line their own pockets,” said Bragg. “For far too long, they have sat in museums, homes, and galleries that had no rightful claim to their ownership.”
Legally holding people accountable for the stolen artworks is complicated, said Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos.
“No antiquity ever goes directly from the source to New York. That never happens,” he told the Daily News. “The problem from our perspective, at the New York end, is, can we prove that the individual who purchased it knew, or reasonably should have known, the object was stolen? And that all depends on how good the laundering process was.”
Fabrizio Di Michele, Italy’s consul general to the United States, said repatriated works of art were previously kept in safe storage facilities. Now, the Italian government has prioritized giving them a worthy display.
Di Michele told The News the precious works returned Tuesday would either go back to the regions or territories they were stolen from or displayed at the aptly-named Museum of Rescued Art.
“This is a commitment on the side of the Italian authorities to ensure that these incredible, beautiful artworks are made accessible to the people of Italy and also to scholars,” he said. “Because otherwise, what’s the point retrieving it if you are just going to put it in storage?”
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News