US restitution of 200 Italian artefacts a 'watershed' moment, Carabinieri chief says, as looted art trove arrives in Rome

Repatriation could lead to resolution in other cases of looted art in museums

A selection of objects from the 200 looted artefacts that have be repatriated to Italy © Carabinieri TPC

A selection of objects from the 200 looted artefacts that have be repatriated to Italy © Carabinieri TPC

A commercial flight loaded with an exceptional trove of carefully wrapped Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities landed in Rome this morning, marking the start of what is the largest ever single repatriation of relics from the US to Italy that officials have described as a “watershed”.

Valued at $10m, the 200 looted artefacts were retrieved by the Manhattan District Attorney Office from individuals and four museums—the Getty Museum, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art at Fordham University—in confiscations dating back to 2019. They were delivered to the Italian consulate in New York in a restitution ceremony on Wednesday.

The unprecedented number of objects that they have surrendered marks a "historical turning point" and could set a precedent for future restitutions, General Roberto Riccardi, the chief of Italy’s Carabinieri TPC heritage unit, tells The Art Newspaper. “This is important because the museums recognised that the artefacts should be returned to Italy. It is the culmination of a long journey,” he says.

© Carabinieri TPC

The haul includes a seventh century BC ceramic vessel named Pithos with Ulysses, a fourth century BC terracotta image of a goddess called A Head of a Maiden and the fragment of a marble statue of Athena that was sold to the reality TV star Kim Kardashian by a Belgian art dealer but seized in Los Angeles in 2016. One hundred forty of the artefacts were flown to Rome today and will be placed in storage by culture ministry officials, while 60 have remained at the Italian consulate and Italian Cultural Institute in New York, where they will be displayed in March and delivered to Italy thereafter.

The ministry will decide which state-run museums to display the artefacts in according to each object’s provenance and history, Riccardi says. “Etruscan items will be shown in museums dedicated to Etruscan culture,” he says by way of example.

The ruling is the culmination of numerous investigations led by the Carabinieri TPC and supported by Homeland Security Investigations. Around 150 of the restituted items are linked with Edoardo Almagià, a 70-year-old Rome-based antiquities dealer who is believed to have trafficked items stolen from Italian burial and archaeological sites over a 30-year period, according to court papers. Almagià has been investigated by American and Italian authorities numerous times since 1996, but cannot be prosecuted in Italy due to the country's statute of limitations.

The latest repatriation follows a number of smaller restitutions from the US to Italy over the past decade, including seven stolen and looted Roman artefacts to Italy in 2012 and a Roman marble peplophoros stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 2016.

However, individual museums have so far resisted demands by the Italian government for the restitution of significant individual pieces, including a 300-100 BC Greek bronze known as the Victorious Youth that was bought by the Getty Museum in 1977 and is worth an estimated $16m.