December 2, 2005

Italy says New York Met may return disputed art

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art may
return disputed antiquities to Italy by early 2007 under a deal
meant to resolve Italy's claims to some of the Met's most
prized artifacts, an Italian official said on Friday.

The culture ministry official said that as part of the
possible agreement, which is still being worked out and
requires approval by the Met's board, Italy would in exchange
lend objects of equal value to the museum on a rotating basis.

The compromise was discussed at a meeting between Italian
officials and the Met's director, Philippe de Montebello, in
Rome last week.

"I think we can reach an accord fairly rapidly," said
Giuseppe Proietti, head of the research and innovation
department at Italy's culture ministry.

The dispute with the Met involves more than 20 objects
which Italy says were stolen or illegally excavated within its

Rome is particularly keen to recover the Euphronios krater,
a 2,500-year-old Greek vase regarded as one of the most prized
treasures in the Met's collection, and a set of 15 silver
pieces from the third century B.C.

Asked when the disputed antiquities might return to Italy,
Proietti said: "We talked about late 2006 or early 2007."

Proietti said the Metropolitan wanted to see the evidence
supporting Italy's claims, but that did not mean that it
disputed them. He described the Rome meeting as cordial.

Last month the former curator of another respected U.S. art
institution, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, appeared
before a Rome court to face charges of knowingly acquiring
stolen artifacts.

A few days earlier, the Getty had returned three disputed
art works to Italy.

The trial has put the spotlight on the shady side of the
global art business.

Experts say international trade in stolen antiquities is
worth billions of dollars every year and that the buying
practices of many museums, particularly in the United States,
are questionable.

Both the Euphronios krater and the silver pieces were sold
to the Met by Paris-based art dealer Emanuel Robert Hecht, the
co-defendant in the trial of former Getty curator Marion True.

Proietti said that the evidence in the hands of Italian
investigators suggested that the Met had "acted in good faith."