Italy welcomes antiquities smuggled from American museums

On Thursday, the Italian Minister of Culture welcomed the return of 201 valuable antiquities valued at more than 10 million euros ($11 million) that were in prestigious American museums and galleries after being illegally smuggled in recent decades.

They were among thousands of artifacts seized from smugglers or returned to Italy this year in major operations that also targeted smuggling gangs in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany.

Of the 201 works returned by US officials earlier this month, 161 were returned to Italy while 40 are on display at the Italian Consulate General in New York through March 2022.

“These works of art, as has happened so many times in the past, will not end up being all in one big museum,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said at a press conference. Instead, they will be returned to the places where they were stolen to display in the museums there.

“This is also a wonderful process of repatriation that will add value to our exceptional country as a vast museum. They are works of art of absolute importance that will attract people to those places and regions,” Franceschini said.

The American pieces included 96 objects that were in the collection of the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art, including ancient pottery and amphora. A titled terracotta figurine dating from the 4th century BC seized from the New York Gallery; Six items have returned from the Getty Museum, including a large Etruscan ceramic vase.

Most of the stolen cache was traced back to the activities of Edoardo Almagia, an Italian citizen who was living in New York. Charges against him were dropped in Italy in 2006 due to a statute of limitations, but in 2013 a judge in Rome ordered the confiscation of all his antiquities in both New York and Naples. He remains at large in Italy, according to the Manhattan attorney general’s office.

One major operation secured nearly 800 artifacts from ancient Daunia, which was located on the Gargano peninsula in northern Apulia, while another operation dismantled a ring smuggling artifacts from southern Italian civilizations operating in Northern Europe. 13 people are under investigation in this case, which resulted in the recovery of 2,000 artifacts.

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