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U.S. Authorities Return Dozens of Looted Artifacts to Italy, Including 27 Objects from the Met

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The Italian Ministry of Culture recently presented a trove of looted artifacts worth $19 million, including 27 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, that US authorities repatriated last year.

On display were 57 of the 60 antiquities returned by the New York County District Attorney’s office last July and September, nearly half of which were seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The items included marble busts, three Corinthian helmets, intricately painted pottery, a fresco which survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, as well as bronze plates and sculptures. One double-spiral brooch was estimated to from 1100 to 1400 BCE.

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The repatriated artifacts also included the Marble Head of Athena, a 200 B.C.E. sculpture looted from a central Italian temple, and type of drinking cup known as a kylix, dating back to 470 B.C.E. valued at $1.2 million. Both items were part of the 27 allegedly looted artifacts seized from the Met last year.

At a press conference in Rome this week, the head of the Carabinieri art department, B. Vincenzo Molinese explained that three of the 60 repatriated items were too fragile for transport and display. He also said determining the group’s overall value was a challenge.

“For us Italians, the value of works of art are the value of our historical and cultural identity and priceless,” Molinese said, adding that there are discussions the items would go on display at national and local museums in Italy.

“These artifacts deserve a place in their homeland,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement last July, calling their cultural value to Italy “immeasurable.”

The Italy’s Cultural Heritage Conservancy (TPC) extensively investigated and verified archaeological items that were trafficked by art brokers Giacomo Medici, Giovanni Franco Becchina, Pasquale Camera and Edoardo Almagiá and eventually acquired by museums, galleries, and private US art collections. All four at brokers sold to billionaire art dealer Michael Steinhardt, whose prolific antiquities collection was investigated by authorities as early as the 1990s.

Steinhardt was never charged with a crime in relation to the investigation, despite his admission to buying more than a hundred objects believed to have been stolen over his multi-decade collecting career. However, by the end of 2021, the prolific art collector had surrendered 180 objects to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and agreed to “an unprecedented lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.”

The press conference in Rome was also attended by Italian culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano; the Deputy Attorney of the District Attorney’s Office of Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos; the Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic at the Court of Rome, Angelantonio Racanelli ; the Minister Counselor for Public Affairs of the United States Embassy in Rome, Christina Tomlinson; as well as Federica Pitzalis, the archaeologist official of the Ministry of Culture.

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