ROME – Italy celebrated the return of three stolen ancient terracotta statues, depicting “Orpheus and the Sirens”, in a ceremony Saturday in newly unveiled Rome. Art museum is saved.
Until earlier this year, the drawings – dating to about 300 BC – were on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. But Italian carabinieri officers in the country’s art theft department discovered irrefutable evidence last year that the sculptures had been illegally unearthed from a site in the South. Italy, and the museum agreed to return them.
The head of the carabinieri art theft department, General Roberto Riccardi, said Saturday at the ceremony that two moments after the investigation stood out. The first was in March 2021, when two lieutenants on his team came to his office to report that a suspect in an ongoing investigation had come clean. The statues, the suspect told officers, were unearthed by grave robbers in the early 1970s in a town near Taranto, in Puglia.
The second moment of interest, said the general, was exactly a week ago in Los Angeles, “at the Getty Museum, where the work ended.” General Riccardi said: “To see this work done is truly one of the greatest things of my life.
“Orpheus and the Sirens” will be on temporary display at the museum of Rome, conceived like a show place for the art of repatriation, before becoming part of the permanent collection of Archaeological Museum of Taranto.
“I can’t help thinking that in 10, 100, 1,000 years, someone will come to the museum in Taranto and see the statues in their rightful place,” said General Riccardi. Art can and should be seen everywhere, he said, “but it has to be done legally.”
In the 53 years since the carabinieri art team was founded, the team has recovered thousands of artifacts stolen from churches, museums, private homes and libraries, and discovered countless fakes. Over the past two decades, many archaeological artifacts have been recovered from museums and private collections worldwide, including some in the United States, often purchased at a time when not applicable. rigorous due diligence to determine whether their origin is legitimate or not.
In the first day of this month, The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized 27 antique artifacts worth more than $13 million from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, asserting that all items were looted.
New York investigators were also involved in the return of the “Orpheus and Sirens” statues along with the carabinieri, prosecutors in Taranto and the US Department of Homeland Security. Three statues were returned to Italy along with 142 looted artifacts, mostly belonging to billionaire industrialist Michael H. Steinhardt and the Royal-Athena Gallery in Manhattan.
Getty museum officials say the life-size terracotta figures were acquired by Getty in 1976, and his diary says he paid $550,000. Officials said Saturday that the work was valued at $8 million.
The carabinieri’s expertise, knowledge and success “is something that Italy should be very proud of,” Italy’s Culture Minister, Dario Franceschini, said on Saturday.
Stéphane Verger, director of the National Roman Museum who oversees the new Rome museum, says that the figures of “Orpheus and the Sirens” are about to begin “a new life”, starting with their display at the museum. museum, different from how they were shown in Los Angeles.
At the Getty, three statues were side by side display. In Rome, Orpheus’s figure was placed opposite two sirens, to better explain the “meaning of the piece,” Verger said.
In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors to their deaths with their songs. But Orpheus, traveling with a group of Argonauts, helped them sail safely through the sirens by playing his lyre loudly and singing.
“It was a moment of confrontation,” he said. Re-reading of the three figures has become “possible due to the recovery,” he said.
Franceschini, the culture minister, said it was imperative for looted artworks to be returned to their place of origin because they were “central to the identity of a territory”, he said. “When they returned home, it was a moment of great celebration, very proud, and it will be the same in Taranto, as they welcome ‘Orpheus and the Sirens’ with open arms.”