In a historical restitution, the United States returns to Italy 200 antiquities looted from the best museums and private collections


Painted pots, marble busts, ceramic figurines and even an ancient Roman statue believed to have been sold to Kim Kardashian are part of a treasure trove of 200 items confiscated by US authorities who landed in Italy as part of the more major repatriation agreement never concluded between the two countries. . The objects have been donated by museums and private collections across the United States.

The transport, which traveled on a commercial flight to Rome on Friday, is estimated at around $ 10 million. “For years, prestigious museums and private collectors across the United States have brought these Italian historical treasures to light, even though their very presence in America was evidence of crimes against cultural heritage,” said prosecutor for Manhattan, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., in a statement. .

About 160 of them are linked to a single antique dealer, Edoardo Almagià, a 70-year-old Rome resident accused of carrying out a smuggling operation for 30 years. Due to the statute of limitations, it is unlikely that he will be the subject of criminal prosecution. But for Italy, the return of the objects is a victory in its own right.

Pithos with Ulysses, Head of a Maiden, and Baltimore Painter Krater, three of some 200 stolen artifacts that Manhattan DA repatriates to Italy. Photo courtesy of DA Manhattan

“What is most important is that these very important archaeological finds come back and become part of our cultural identity,” said Italian police official Roberto Riccardi, who serves in a Carabinieri cultural heritage unit. New York Times.

Seven of the repatriated artifacts were from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, including a 2,500-year-old goblet of wine. The San Antonio Museum of Art returned five Greco-Roman pots and plates and a selection of pottery fragments, while the Cleveland Museum of Art returned three works.

Others came from galleries and private collections in New York and Long Island. According to federal documents, Kim Kardashian was in the process of acquiring one of the works, an ancient Roman statue, when she was detained at the U.S. border in 2016. (A spokesperson for the celebrity later told Artnet News that Kardashian had “never seen this sculpture,” suggesting that her ex Kanye West was behind the failed purchase.)

Nearly half of the illicit objects came from the Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art at Fordham University in the Bronx. The museum opened in 2007 at the school’s Walsh Library, named after former student and donor William D. Walsh, who donated his collection of 260 antiques to his alma mater. He then donated 40 additional objects to the museum, which has since made modest acquisitions.

Fordham was forced to turn over a cache of around 100 Greco-Roman artifacts valued at nearly $ 2 million, all but two of which come from Almagià. The museum collection still includes some 200 antiquities.

Authorities argue that Walsh, who died in 2013, was unaware of Almagià‘s illicit actions, but media coverage of the museum’s opening noted the potential for looted art.

“This is a slightly reckless act on the part of the university, as much of it is not original,” said Richard Hodges, director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. . New York Times at the time.

For his part, Almagià denied and tried to downplay the allegations against him when he was hit by the Time. Investigations into his actions date back to at least 1996. In 2000, he was caught with stolen frescoes from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum at New York’s Kennedy Airport.

He left the United States in 2006 and authorities raided his Upper East Side apartment, finding six artifacts looted. An Italian court acquitted Almagià in a contraband case in 2012, but the ruling acknowledged that he helped to illegally move Italian antiques.

The Manhattan DA office believes other museums across the country still hold artefacts that once belonged to Almagià, so additional renditions could be considered.

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