February 3, 2006

NY museum agrees to return works to Italy

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Metropolitan Museum of Art has
agreed to return to Italy several works, including a
2,500-year-old Greek vase, following decades of controversy
over what Italy says are plundered antiquities.

On Thursday, the New York museum formally presented to the
Italian Culture Ministry in Rome a draft of an agreement
transferring legal title to six antiquities from the museum's
collections. The pieces include a group of 15 Hellenistic
silver pieces and will be transferred to Italy, the museum said
in a statement.

In exchange, the Italian government will provide to the
Metropolitan long-term loans of works of art of equivalent
beauty and importance, the museum said.

Tomb raiders have looted antiquities in Italy for
centuries, and Italian Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione has
spearheaded an aggressive campaign to bring back 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.

The proposal announced on Thursday follows the receipt of
evidentiary documents provided to the museum by the Culture
Ministry and discussions last week between Buttiglione and
Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan.

The concept of transferring title to the disputed works to
Italy in exchange for long-term loans from Italian collections,
was first presented by de Montebello at a meeting with Italian
officials in Rome on November 22.

Among the works being returned are third century B.C.
silverware from Sicily's Morgantina site and the vase, called
the Euphronios krater, which dates from the 6th century B.C.

In Rome, Giuseppe Proietti, a senior official at the
Culture Ministry, said the Metropolitan's de Montebello will
visit Rome on February 14, and that he hoped a formal agreement
would be signed then.

"We are very satisfied because this opens a new chapter in
our relationship with the Metropolitan and also paves the way
for wide-ranging cooperation between us," he said.

(Additional reporting by Silvia Aloisi in Rome)