Museum of Rescued Art showcases stolen relics that have returned to Italy

July 28, 2022
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A museum to showcase dozens of relics that were stolen from cultural sites in Italy and trafficked to the US has opened in Rome.

About 100 of the 260 Etruscan, Greek and Roman artefacts that are gradually being returned to Italy have gone on display as part of the first exhibit in the Museum of Rescued Art, which is being hosted in a space among the ruins of the ancient Baths of Diocletian.

The items on display, which include figurines, statues, urns, plates and coins, will change in October as more of the looted art is returned to Italy and the already exhibited relics are in turn returned to the place from where they are believed to have been stolen.

Many of the relics were looted during clandestine digs by so-called tombaroli, or tomb-raiders, dating back to the early 1980s, before being smuggled out of Italy. The pieces sold in America had ended up in private collections, museums and auction houses. Among them was an ancient Roman sculpture that almost ended up in the possession of Kim Kardashian.

A white marble head of the Roman emperor Settimio Severo that had been stolen in 1984 from a museum in Italy’s southern Campania region was found in June 2020 just as it was about to be put up for auction at Christie’s in New York.

Italy’s cultural heritage protection squad was established in 1969 and has since retrieved more than 3m stolen artefacts.

“Stolen works of art and archaeological relics that are dispersed, sold or exported illegally is a significant loss for the cultural heritage of the country,” said Dario Franceschini, the Italian culture minister. “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.”

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