December 23, 2005

Italy nears deal with NY’s Met on looted art

By Rachel Sanderson

ROME (Reuters) - Italy is close to a deal with New York's
Metropolitan Museum of Art on the return of disputed
antiquities in the latest chapter of a saga that has turned a
spotlight on the international trade in stolen art.

Italy's Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione said on Friday
that talks with Met Director Philippe de Montebello about an
ancient bowl and silverware that Italians say were looted had
taken a significant "step forward."

"An agreement with the Metropolitan is reasonably likely,"
Buttiglione said at a news conference.

"The museum's board is due to give us a reply by January."

The Met's negotiations with Italy are being closely watched
by the international art world because authorities have accused
another eight U.S. museums, including the Boston Museum of Fine
Arts and Los Angeles' Getty Museum, of owning stolen

Buttiglione unveiled on Friday the three latest looted
works returned from the United States: a giant head of Roman
Emperor Trajan, dating from the 15th century, and two 18th
century paintings by Andrea Appiani. Both were seized by U.S.
customs officials at Christie's auction house in New York.

To date, the Getty has felt the fullest force of Italy's
assault on the illegal art trade with a former curator, Marion
True, standing trial in Rome on charges she conspired with
dealers trafficking in stolen antiquities.

Buttiglione said he wanted the Met to return to Italy two
of the most prized works in its antiquities collection: 3rd
century B.C. silverware from Sicily's Morgantina site and the
Euphronios krater, a red-figured vase from the 6th century B.C.

The Met's de Montebello has said he is ready to return the
art works if they were found to have been looted. He had
requested proof of the Italian provenance of the pieces and
said the board also needed to approve the decision, Buttiglione

For many of the other disputed works in the Met's
collection Italy has suggested an extended loan of longer than
a decade.

"We recognize that the United States is poor in terms of
antiquities," Buttiglione said.

Tomb raiders have looted antiquities in Italy for centuries
but Buttiglione has spearheaded an aggressive campaign to have
returned art works stolen after 1939. Italy passed a law in
that year stating that ancient artifacts from digs belong to
the state.

Antiquities excavated after 1939 can only leave the country
on loan. Italy had recovered 27,000 stolen artifacts in 2005,
including three disputed works from the Getty Museum, an
increase of 50 percent on the previous year, Buttiglione said.