Calamos Supports Greece
GreekReporter.comGreek NewsA New Museum Opens in Rome for Recovered Treasures

A New Museum Opens in Rome for Recovered Treasures

Museum Rome Treasures
A new museum in Rome for recovered treasures, before returning home Credit: Alex MacPhee CC2 / Flickr

Last month, Italian officials in Rome inaugurated a new museum for treasures recovered before returning them home dubbed the Museo dell’Arte Salvata, or the Museum of Saved Art.

‘Rescued art’ turns out to be a broad term, and the museum will showcase the myriad ways in which pieces of artwork can be salvaged from thieves, from the rubble of earthquakes and other national disasters, from ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, or from the devastation of time by Italy’s expert restorers.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, said at the inauguration of the museum that it would “show the world the excellence of our work” in all these areas.

The museum’s first exhibition, which runs through October 15th,  focuses on recovering looted art and pays tribute to Italy’s crack theft police unit the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of cultural heritage. The unit is credited with having returned thousands of works of art to Italy, effectively thwarting “the black market for archaeological artifacts,” explains a panel on display.

About 100 pieces, Greco-Roman vases and sculptures and even coins from the seventh century to the third century BC included among these, are on display in the museum, which is installed in a cavernous hall built as part of Diocletian’s Baths. The hall is now attached to the National Roman Museum.

However, their stay in the exhibition here is somewhat like a pit stop.

For years, the Italian Ministry of Culture’s policy has been to return recovered artifacts to the museums closest to where they were likely looted, a process that is sometimes laborious to pull off given the clandestine nature of the excavations.

For example, when the looted second-century AD marble statue of Vibia Sabina, Hadrian’s wife, was donated by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2006, it was returned to its villa in Tivoli for temporary display. It is now exhibited by the Chamber of Commerce in Rome.

The task of determining where to return the artifacts in this new museum is the task of a team of archaeologists and experts.

“I consider this a museum of wounded art because the works on display here have been stripped of their context of discovery and connection,” said Stéphane Verger, the director of the National Roman Museum under whose supervision the new museum falls.

Need to return home recovered treasures

Euphronios Krater Credit: Ismoon CC4 / Wikimedia Commons

The much-cherished Euphronius Krater, arguably Italy’s greatest prize in the war against antiquities looting, is showcased in a local setting, where it is displayed in context and boosts local tourism and economy.

The sixth-century BC red-figure crater had been looted from a Cerveteri tomb in 1971 and sold a year later to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for $1 million, an unprecedented sum at the time. The Met relinquished the crater in 2006.

After staying at the Villa Giulia in Rome, it is now a permanent addition to the Cerveteri Archaeological Museum, along with a kylix, or drinking cup, also from Euphronius, which the Getty Museum returned in 1999 after evidence emerged of its obscure provenance.

Franceschini, the culture minister, said the idea of ​​a new museum that would display recovered antiquities before returning to their local origins had come to him when these two pieces were loaned to the Archaeological Museum of Cerveteri in 2014. Rather than return the pieces to Villa Giulia, cultural officials decided the two ships were better off in Cerveteri near the sites where they had been illegally excavated.

Now Euphronius’ crater is “a symbol of the city itself,” Franceschini said at the inauguration of the Museum of Rescued Art. “We are sure it is paramount to return the works to where they belong.”

Vincenzo Bellelli, the new director of the Cerveteri Archaeological Park, said it was a “brave decision” and “enlightened policy that gave local museums new opportunities” to increase their appeal. “It’s gambling on cultural sites,” he said.

In October, following the closing of the exhibit at the Museum of Rescued Art, twenty pieces are expected to be assigned to Cerveteri, including a lidded white-on-red pithos decorated with the dazzle of Polyphemus, Poseidon’s giant son and thoosa. The Pithos, or Great Nave, is a seventh-century BC Etruscan work recently recovered from the Getty Museum.

Bellelli said the pithos would have its own display case in the museum for the time being, alongside the Euphronius pieces.

But like Verger, he argued that the story of the looting and recovery of these pieces should only be a footnote to the much more important narration of the city’s history.

Those two vases, made by Euphronius, one of the most famous artists of ancient Greece, were discovered in Cerveteri showing the importance of the Etruscan city at that time. “It was a hub in ancient times”, a “great market” and a place where ideas traveled.

“There was a reason why such precious vases were found in Cerveteri,” he said. Until then, the returning artifacts will be in the spotlight of the new museum in Rome.

The works on display there had been seized by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office from museums, auction houses, and private collectors in the United States based on evidence provided by the carabinieri as to their illegal provenance.

Verger said the current display is “an example of the great effort of the carabinieri” in Italy’s decades-long crusade to end the antiquities trade, as well as the work of the Manhattan prosecutors, “which has been very important.”

Last December, two hundred pieces were handed over to Italian officials, a transfer described as the largest single repatriation of relics from America to Italy. Such an important return “called for an exhibition,” said Massimo Osanna, the head of the Ministry of Culture and museum directorate.

Explanatory panels in the display cases summarize decades of investigations by the carabinieri that often led to criminal proceedings and the return of ill-gotten goods. But not much blame is being put on museums and collectors who accidentally or not have fueled that black market.

“We are already working on a new exhibition because we have so much interesting material,” he said.

The dozens of vases, jars, statues, and coins are presented for the most part by type and possible provenance and not by the collections from which they were swept.

Criticism surrounding returning recovered treasures in Rome

The Italian focus on reclaiming art and faithfully returning it to its places of origin, however remote, has had its critics. Some say that in a globalized world where efforts are being made to spread culture, tackle problems internationally, and remove economic and social barriers, the repatriation of Western antiquities speaks of a more insular persistence in the interests of national identity.

Others argue that antiques are best seen in institutions that draw millions of visitors rather than in local museums in remote towns where they attract dust rather than people.

An example of this is the evolution of an exhibition known as “Nostoi: Recovered Masterpieces,” from the Greek word for ‘homecoming,’ which was first put on in 2007 by Italian cultural officials as a triumphant recognition of their success in securing the return of stolen antiquities.

Staged at Italy’s Presidential Palace in Rome, the exhibition recognized the tremendous success Italy had had in convincing several American museums to return dozens of items to Italy, most notably the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.

However, since 2017, a renovated version of the “Nostoi” exhibition has been installed in a series of small rooms in a low-rise building in a central square in Cerveteri, once an Etruscan stronghold known as Caere, some 25 kilometers northwest of Rome. The exhibition does not have regular visiting hours, but a tour guide association occupying adjacent space will open the rooms upon request.

Alessio Pascucci, who was mayor of Cerveteri said, “We depend on volunteers to keep it open.” He nevertheless hopes the current museum can grow into a national institution for repatriated art.

See all the latest news from Greece and the world at Contact our newsroom to report an update or send your story, photos and videos. Follow GR on Google News and subscribe here to our daily email!

Related Posts