Art and Entertainment

Courtesy of the Italian Culture Ministry/AP
A mule head rhyton returned to Italy by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Italy Secures Return of Stolen Artwork

November 20, 2008 02:33 PM
by Rachel Balik
The Cleveland Museum of Art joins other U.S. museums in agreeing to return 14 allegedly stolen artifacts to Italy.

Stolen Artifacts Will Return to Italy

The Cleveland Museum of Art has agreed to return 14 pieces of artwork to Italy that the Italian government says were illegally removed from the country. The Cleveland Museum is not the first museum to return artwork to Italy; however, Reuters notes that there is some controversy about the country’s demands because many believe the U.S. museums have better resources to protect and preserve these works, which are hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years old.

Like other museums, the Cleveland museum will seek out loan arrangements that will enable it to display these artifacts on rotation.

Background: Past Cases of Artwork Recovery

The Italian government worked previously with the Getty Museum to arrange for the return of 40 pieces of allegedly stolen artwork in 2007. The Museum worked hard to negotiate a deal that would ensure it still had access to some prized pieces, NPR reported at the time. The museum will be able to exchange some pieces through continued loans, and also made stricter policies about confirming origins of artwork it acquires in the future.

In February 2008, Italians celebrated the return of the art from the Getty Museum with an exhibit called “Nostoi,” which means “a return home” in Greek. In an interview with PBS, Italy’s Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli noted that the road to reclaiming the artwork had been a winding one. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts had been ready to cooperate and returned treasured archeological pieces; but Italy had to threaten to withhold future artwork loans before the Getty Museum would comply. To get the pieces back from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Rutelli said he started with a tactic of “moral suasion.” He hoped that museums would share his opposition to the illegality of displaying stolen works.
Other countries, such as France, have had success in reclaiming stolen art. During World War II, Nazis took hundreds of works from their French owners, many of whom were Jews killed in the Holocaust. Much of this artwork was successfully reclaimed via the diligence of French spies during the war, but not all of it has been, or ever can be, returned to the rightful owners or their heirs.

Related Topic: Looting in Iraq

Unfortunately, wartime looting persists, and a side effect of the Iraq war has been the raiding of Iraq’s archeological sites and museums. During the early days of the American occupation, looting began occurring on a mass scale, and there was little effort to prevent it. In March 2008, Salon examined just how much, if at all, protection policies had changed during the course of the five-year war. A roundtable group of archaeologists, filmmakers, reporters and Iraqi and American museum curators recounted the disastrous looting and assessed the damage.

Reference: The Cleveland Museum of Art and Fine Art Online

Find out about exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as programs, performances and events, on the museum’s Web site.

Learn about art and its history, explore online museums, research galleries, read art magazines, or buy and sell artwork with help from the findingDulcinea Art Web Guide.

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