Italy creates a new museum for trafficked ancient artifacts

Italy has been so successful in recovering ancient works of art and artifacts that they were illegally exported from the country that it created a museum for them.

The Museo dell’Arte Recuperata was inaugurated on Wednesday in a cavernous structure that is part of the ancient Baths of Diocletian in Rome. The exhibition space of the Octagonal Room was designed to show Italy’s efforts, through patient diplomacy and judicial challenges, to repatriate precious antiquities, often after decades in foreign museums or private collections.

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The objects on display in the new museum will change every few months as the objects on display return to what experts consider their territory of origin, many of which were places that were part of the ancient Etruscan civilizations or Magna Graecia in central Italy. southern.

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The inaugural exhibition revolves around about 100 of the 260 artifacts recovered by the nation’s paramilitary art team of the Carabinieri from the United States and brought back to Italy in December 2021.

The pieces on display, found during clandestine excavations and illegally exported, include finely carved Etruscan figurines and imposing painted vases from several centuries BC. The objects were previously stored in museums, auction houses and private collections.

Museum of Saved Art, Saved ArtMuseum of Saved Art, Saved Art Italy has been so successful in regaining ancient works of art and artifacts illegally exported from the country that it has now created a museum just for them, the Museum of Salvated Art. (Photo AP / Alessandra Tarantino)

The new museum in Rome exhibits objects “never seen before in Italy”, said Massimo Osanna, director general of the Italian state museums. In his previous role, Hosanna had long been tasked with reviving the fortunes of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city near Naples, one of the most famous archaeological cities in the world, itself heavily plundered by antiquity thieves of past generations.

The recently recovered antiquities date back to before the Roman era, datable between the 8th and 4th centuries BC. Many of them came from the area near today’s Cerveteri, rich in remains of the flourishing Etruscan civilization in central-western Italy.

A particularly striking piece, from the 7th century BC, is a ceramic vase, painted red on white and more than a meter (40 inches) high. Decorated with images of horses and cats, it depicts the mythological scene of the blinding of Polyphemus, a one-eyed man-eating creature.

The choice of the vase’s decoration probably indicates that the Etruscan elite were bilingual and “fascinated by the Greek myth,” Osanna told the Associated Press in an interview. They were “Etruscan heroes who identified with Greek heroes,” she said.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini explained the decision to opt for a rotating series of exhibitions in the new museum instead of establishing a permanent collection of saved art.

“We thought it was right for the pieces to go back to the places they were stolen from,” Franceschini said.

In some cases, experts do not know the exact original location of the antiquities, pointing out the irreparable damage caused when archaeological treasures are stolen clandestinely. Pieces of unknown origin will be returned to the general geographic area.

Museum of Saved Art, Saved ArtMuseum of Saved Art, Saved Art A man looks at the archaeological finds exhibited in the new “Museum of Saved Art”. (Photo AP / Alessandra Tarantino)

The exhibition space is part of the National Roman Museum. Its current exhibition will run until October 15, then the museum will display a different batch of salvaged antiquities.

Among the cornerstones of the current exhibition of “saved art” there are two terracotta heads, vertically cut in half, which are part of a group of Etruscan votive offerings from the 4th to the 3rd century BC.

Another striking piece is a well-preserved and finely decorated Etruscan burial box, decorated with images of a warrior, a horse and a cat.

While Italy proudly boasts of regaining around 3 million artifacts and works of art since a special unit for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage of the Carabinieri was established in 1969, it is also seeking to inspire countries to return antiques that they identify with other cultures.

Earlier this month, Italy returned to Athens a fragment of the Parthenon frieze that had been in an archaeological museum in Sicily. Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, argued that the so-called “Fagan fragment” was legitimately in Italy, but said that his country wanted to “affirm the principle of restitution of cultural assets to reconnect the historical and artistic heritage with the places and peoples of origin”.

Some treasures have so far escaped Italy’s efforts to obtain them.

The commander of the Carabinieri, General Teo Luzi, spoke wistfully at the debut of the new museum of the hope that one day Italy would claim the “Victorious Youth”, a footless bronze statue that was found by an Italian fishing boat in the Adriatic Sea. in 1964. It was eventually acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.

In 2018, the highest Italian court ruled that the museum had to deliver the statue to Italy. But the museum, insisting that the statue was fished out of international waters, challenged the order.

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