A new museum opened in Rome on Wednesday, showcasing dozens of priceless looted artworks that had illegally ended up in the US and were recently returned to Italy.
Some 50 pre-Roman statues, jars, plates, urns, and coins were put on display in the Museum of Rescued Art, housed in a section of the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian, once the largest spa of the Roman empire.
The art heritage squad of Italy’s Carabinieri police – which regularly tracks the international arts market for signs of stolen goods – found them in US museums, private collections, auction houses, and antique galleries.
One of the oldest artefacts – a 7th century B.C. Etruscan jar decorated with a scene from the Odyssey, in which Ulysses blinds the one-eyed giant Polyphemus – came from the renowned Getty museum in Los Angeles.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini explained that the artworks would remain on display temporarily in Rome, before being returned to the Italian cities where they are presumed to have been looted from.
“Protecting and promoting these treasures is an institutional duty, but also a moral commitment: it is necessary to take on this responsibility for future generations,” he said in a statement.
Italy has an unparalleled artistic and archeological heritage, which has been looted and smuggled abroad for centuries. So-called tomb raiders still operate today, stealing from sites that are dug up illegally.
The Carabinieri’s art heritage squad insist that they are getting more successful in tracking down and recovering stolen art, also thanks to cooperation from law enforcement and museum authorities in the US and elsewhere.
They presented their work as a matter of national pride.
“Not loving art, in Italy, is equivalent to a crime: it is the premise for letting it be destroyed. Not defending art, if you are Italian, is turning your back on your history, dishonoring your father and your mother,” the Carabinieri said in a briefing note released by the museum.