Stolen statue, painting returned to Italian government in NY

AP News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2015 6:22 PM
Stolen statue, painting returned to Italian government in NY

NEW YORK (AP) — Decades after being stolen in Italy, an ancient statuette and an 18th-century painting were returned to the country's government Tuesday after turning up in New York.

The handover marked the latest case of U.S. authorities helping Italy and other countries reclaim what they see as cultural patrimony.

"For decades, two significant pieces of Italian heritage have been on the run," FBI Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez said as he and Manhattan Deputy U.S. Attorney Richard Zabel gave the artworks to Warrant Officer Angelo Ragusa of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, an art-crimes police force.

The painting, called "The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement," is attributed to the renowned artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, also called Giambattista Tiepolo. It was taken from a house in Turin in 1982, prosecutors said.

The Etruscan bronze statuette of the Greek mythological hero Herakles — also known as Heracles or, to the Romans, Hercules — dates to the sixth or fifth century B.C. It vanished from the Oliveriano Archaeological Museum in Pesaro in 1964.

The works eventually ended up with an art dealer and an art-investment firm, which consigned them for sale in recent years. They relinquished the items after learning of the thefts and aren't accused of involvement.

Italy has campaigned in the last decade to get back cultural items including ancient Roman, Greek and Etruscan artifacts the government says were looted or stolen.

New York prosecutors have been involved in the effort before. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced in 2011 that a Renaissance painting and a Roman sculpture from about the first century were being returned to Italy after popping up at New York auction houses.

And the Manhattan district attorney's office prosecuted a prominent coin collector who pleaded guilty in 2012 to trying to sell what he believed were ancient coins found in Italy after 1909, when it became illegal to remove antiquities from the country. (Some of the coins proved to be forgeries.)

Other countries also have taken action in recent years to reclaim antiquities, sometimes with help from U.S. authorities. In one example, fossilized remains of more than 18 dinosaurs were turned over to Mongolia's government last year after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents discovered that mislabeled dinosaur bones were illegally being shipped into the U.S.

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Follow Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.