Italy is seeking the return of seven ancient works held by the Louvre which are believed to have been looted, including a fifth-century amphora by the so-called painter of Berlin.
The director of the Louvre, Laurence des Cars, says the works are under investigation, telling Le Monde: "I consider that works that have a dubious provenance are a stain in the collections of the Louvre. We must examine [these cases] with rigour and lucidity.”
In February, Gennaro Sangiuliano, the Italian minister of culture, met Des Cars to discuss the possible repatriation of the disputed works. Meanwhile last September, Luigi La Rocca, director general of archaeology at the Italian Ministry of Culture, presented a list of works in the Louvre’s collection sought by Italy including the krater of the painter of Antimenes and a head of Heracles from the ancient Etruscan city of Cerveteri. Des Cars says: "We will enter a new phase this fall, at the end of which we will recommend a position [on the contested works] to the Ministry of Culture.”
Le Monde reports that some of the works, acquired between 1982 and 1998, can be linked to the convicted antiquities dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. In 1995 a trove of Polaroids, documents and antiquities that passed through the hands of Medici were discovered in a Geneva Freeport, seized by the Italian police and presented as evidence in a high-profile looting case in Italy in 2005. Becchina's photographic archives were seized by Swiss authorities in 2001 and turned over to Italy’s main law enforcement agency, the Carabinieri.
Four pieces in the Louvre’s collection were identified by Maurizio Pellegrini and Daniela Rizzo, archaeologists who retired from the Italian Ministry of Culture five years ago. These specialists trawled Becchina's archives and discovered that the Louvre bought the krater by the “painter of Antimenes” for $290,000 from the dealer in 1987.
Another expert who has tracked the works in the Louvre include Christos Tsirogiannis—head of Illicit Antiquities research (UNESCO Chair), Ionian University, Greece—who spotted the “Berlin painter” amphora in the Medici archives. The work, once owned by the oil magnates Nelson and William Hunt, was bought by the Louvre at an auction in London in 1994.
Tsirogiannis wrote to Cécile Giroire, the director of the Greek, Etruscan and Roman department of the Louvre, earlier this year, asking her to support his bid for a grant from the European Research Council (ERC) which would enable him to check more than 50,000 images of works confiscated from antiquities traffickers. The ERC rejected his application however.
“I wrote to Giroire in January, offering to cooperate in searching the Louvre’s collection of antiquities [in relation to] the dealers’ confiscated archives; my aim was to research the trafficking networks that supplied the Louvre and other museums across Europe with illicit antiquities. I offered my cooperation for free, subject to a successful application to the European Research Council,” Tsirogiannis tells The Art Newspaper. The Louvre had not responded to a request for further comment at the time of writing.