ROME — Taken together, the five dozen ancient artifacts displayed at Italy’s culture ministry on Monday would have made a fine archaeological centerpiece for any museum.
The items, dating from the seventh century B.C. to the first century A.D., included well-preserved marble statues, red-figure vases, a silver drinking bowl, even rare bronzes. The artifacts, worth more than $20 million, according to the Italian Culture Ministry, were back on Italian soil after having been seized in the United States by American officials over the past 14 months.
Twenty-one of the works had been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as well as in private homes and auction houses, before being recovered by American officials, who acted on evidence that they had been illegally looted from archaeological sites in Italy.
Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, said Monday during a celebratory news conference that the recovered artifacts were the “fruit of a collaboration,” between Italian and American law enforcement officials, that would not end with these 60 works.
Italy has fought for decades to quash the trade in illicitly excavated artifacts, and strenuous negotiations forged deals for the return of dozens of works with several American museums, notably the Met, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Its efforts have picked up steam in recent years thanks to developments in technology, including easily consulted online databases and improved collaboration with American officials, and in particular the Manhattan’s district attorney’s office.
Culture ministry officials presented two works on Monday: a marble head of Athena, dated circa 200 B.C. and valued at $3 million, and a white-ground terra-cotta kylix, or drinking cup, attributed to the Villa Giulia Painter, dating to the fifth century B.C. and valued at $1.5 million. According to a search warrant, the artifacts were seized last July from the Metropolitan Museum along with 19 other works, many on show Monday.
At the time of the seizure, the museum said in a statement that it had fully cooperated with the district attorney’s investigation and that its acquisition reviews have become more rigorous over the years.
“The norms of collecting have changed significantly in recent decades,” the museum said, “and The Met’s policies and procedures in this regard have been under constant review over the past 20 years.”
Among the items returned was a fresco depicting the infant Hercules strangling a snake, which dates to the first century. It is believed to have been looted from Herculaneum, a settlement buried in the Vesuvian eruption of 79 A.D., and decades ago was tracked by investigators to the apartment of Michael H. Steinhardt, a prominent New York venture capitalist and a major ancient art collector. In 2021, after investigators seized 180 stolen antiquities valued at $70 million from Mr. Steinhardt, he agreed to a lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.
The Italian government made a first request for the …….