Over 140 stolen antiquities valued at nearly $14 million have been returned to Italy, including three frescos from an ancient Greek city located in southern Italy.
US and Italian officials made the announcement at a repatriation ceremony for the artifacts.
The items include the three fresco paintings dating to the fourth century B.C. from Paestum, the Greek colony near the present-day city of Naples. The paintings depict scenes of mourning women and were hacked from the wall of a tomb by looters.
The return was part of a years-long, multinational investigation into billionaire Michael Steinhardt, one of the world’s largest ancient art collectors. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office led the investigation, which concluded in December.
Stolen Antiquities Have Included Those From Greece
Officials have seized 180 stolen antiquities in all valued at $70 million, including fifty-five Greek antiquities valued at over $20 million. A ceremony in February marked the repatriation of those artifacts. The Greek antiquities decorated the billionaire’s homes and offices and were often loaned to museums.
The DA’s office also imposed on Steinhardt a first-of-its-kind lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities. For his part, the financier has denied any criminal wrongdoing; he agreed to return the Greek antiquities and other artifacts as part of a deal meant to resolve the criminal probe into his collection. Steinhardt has argued he purchased the antiquities without knowing that they were looted, placing blame on the dealers instead.
Of the 142 objects returned to Italy, sixty were recovered from the now-closed Royal-Athena Galleries in New York, forty-eight were recovered from Steinhardt, and thirty-four were seized in relation to ongoing investigations, the office said.
Other items returned to Italy include the Ercolano Fresco, dating to 50 A.D. It depicts an infant Hercules strangling a snake and was looted in 1995 from a villa in Herculaneum, an archaeological site southeast of Naples.
The area was buried for millennia under volcanic ash from the fiery eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Steinhardt purchased the Ercolano for $650,000 in 1995 with no verifiable prior provenance. It is now valued at 979,000 euros ($1 million).
Another item, an Archaic pithos (storage jar) dates back to 700 B.C. It was seized in an investigation into Edoardo Almagia, an Italian native and former New York resident, according to officials.
“Though the pieces being repatriated today have a written price tag of millions of dollars, the historical, artistic, and cultural values attached to each of the relics are immeasurable and priceless,” Manhattan DA Bragg said. “These artifacts deserve a place in their homeland, where the people of Italy can jointly appreciate the marvels of their country’s past.”
He added that there were “far too many important cultural artifacts being illegally looted and trafficked across the globe, and we will continue to conduct these investigations in coordination with our law enforcement partners.”
Consul General of Italy Fabrizio Di Michele, who attended the ceremony, said the “repatriation of these 142 masterpieces, previously stolen or looted in Italy, is very important for our country.”