February 20, 2006

Italy to sign deal with Met over disputed art

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will sign a deal over disputed art
works with New York's Metropolitan Museum on Tuesday, ending
decades of controversy and paving the way for the return to
Italy of antiquities Rome says were plundered.

Culture Ministry officials and Met director Philippe de
Montebello held talks in Rome on Monday to finalize the deal, a
ministry spokesman said.

"The agreement is there. We are just putting the final
touches on it," he said.

The Met said earlier this month it had agreed to return
several works, including a 2,500-year-old Greek vase and a set
of 15 Hellenistic silver pieces to Italy in exchange for
long-term loans of equivalent beauty and importance.

Tomb raiders have looted antiquities in Italy for
centuries, and Rome says some of the works have ended up on
display in museums abroad, particularly in the United States.

Authorities have undertaken an aggressive campaign in
recent months to bring back antiquities stolen after 1939, when
Italy passed a law stating that ancient artifacts from digs
belong to the state. Art works excavated after that date can
leave the country only on loan.

Rome is particularly keen to recover the Euphronius krater,
a Greek vase from the sixth century B.C. regarded as one of the
most prized treasuries in the Met's collection, and the silver
pieces from Sicily's Morgantina site.

The former curator of another respected U.S. art
institution, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, is on
trial in Rome on charges of knowingly acquiring stolen

Both the Euphronios krater and the Morgantina silver pieces
were sold to the Met by Paris-based art dealer Emanuel Robert
Hecht, who is also a defendant in the trial.