Almost 800 ancient artifacts have been brought back to Italy after they were discovered to have been illegally exported to Belgium. The antiquities are worth as much as 11 million euros, and were found in the possession of a private collector living in Antwerp.
The Carabinieri paramilitary police had been investigating the collection for four years after it discovered a pre-Roman stele–a tall stone monument– in a catalog for a show in Geneva about ancient Italian society. They then found that another portion of the same stele existed in the collection of a museum in Puglia, and realized that the entire stele must have originated from Italy. It is a crime to export artifacts that have been discovered in Italy to other countries.
The pieces’ ages ranges from the 6th to 3rd century B.C. The artifacts are Apulian and originated from the Daunian culture, a civilization from the early Iron Age.
The stolen artifacts included pottery, statuettes, steles, and amphorae, all discovered in the ownership of one Belgian art collector, who had been keeping them in glass vitrines inside his Antwerp home. The collector desperately attempted to retain the works, but his appeals were rejected by the Belgian government.
Italy has worked tirelessly to recover artifacts
Italy has worked tirelessly to recover artifacts it believes to have been discovered on its territory. They scour museums, public and private collections worldwide for artifacts and artworks that may be Italian in origin, but their law also applies to artifacts from different cultures–so long as the artifact was excavated in Italy.
They famously returned a Greek statue that was held by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles to Italy after finding that it too had been exported illegally.
The statue is believed to be the work of the Greek sculptor Lysippus.
A decade-long dispute has taken place between the museum and Italian government reading the ownership of the Victorious Youth, as the statue is called. The statue is also sometimes referred to as the “Getty Bronze”.
The ruling of the Court of Cassation in Rome was rejected by the museum.
The Roman court upheld the ruling of a local court in Pesaro, located in the Marche region of central Italy, where the statue was found by fishermen more than fifty years ago. It is believed that a Roman ship was transporting the bronze statue from Greece to Italy when it sank in the Adriatic.
The Getty Museum bought “Victorious Youth” in 1977 for $3.95 million from a German art dealer and it is currently on display at the Getty Villa, part of the Getty Museum.
Italian authorities claim that the statue was taken out of Italy illegally, without an export license. The museum maintains that the statue was found in international waters, and has only an incidental connection with Italy.