Earlier this month (November 2013), in an exhibition named Capolavori dell’archeologia: Recuperi, ritrovamenti, confronti or Masterpieces of archaeology: Recovery, findings, comparisons Italy’s lost artifacts were finally home. The exhibition which was held at Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, an imposing fortress-turned-state museum, visitors got the chance to see beautiful antiquities and artifacts that had been returned to Italy. The pieces which were either illegally exported, looted or stolen were sold in the international markets and most probably transported around the world to private collectors. This is another evidence that illegal smuggling of national heritage and archeological artifacts is not unique to war or conflict-torn regions and countries of the world as we have reported here at WCHV. In fact, the
Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s police force, has reported recovering 874,163 archaeological works and 2,416 paintings in the past two years as reported by BBC.
At the exhibition, one display showed that when an item is looted, the problem isn’t just that it risks disappearing into the hands of a private collector somewhere around the globe. One of the major problems is that many times the smuggled item is deliberately broken into smaller pieces to make it easier to hide and move and as a result the artifact is actually destroyed.
The items in the exhibit included ancient sarcophagi, sculptures, vases, and frescoes.
One of the treasures was the head and extremities of a Morgantina acrolith. Acroliths were statues generally made with wooden trunks and marble heads; dating from 530 to 520BC. That particular piece is one of the oldest in the Western world and believed to have been donated by a private collector to the University of Virginia’s Art Museum, which returned them to Italy in 2008. Another set of great pieces in the exhibit included large vibrant pieces of fresco from a villa in Pompeii which were returned to Italy in 2009 from the J Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California.
In 1970 UNESCO Convention on the illicit movement of cultural property mandated that a buyer of stolen antiquities must return the items to the original country, even if purchased in good faith. The US signed the mandate in 1983.