21 Italian artifacts recovered by investigators in July were valued at $10 million, and six Egyptian pieces, recovered in February and May, were deemed to be worth $3.2 million.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been forced to turn over 27 artifacts worth over $13 million that investigators say were looted from ancient Rome and Egypt.
As reported by the New York Times, the Manhattan district attorney’s office worked with federal officials to execute three search warrants on the museum over a six-month span, during which investigators confiscated 21 relics stolen from Italy and six looted from Egypt. The artifacts will now be returned to their home countries.
Law enforcement officials are cracking down on museums and private collectors in possession of antique items acquired through illegal organized trafficking. Dealers and looting groups that operate all over the world often coordinate the transfer of these items, the outlet reported.
The 21 Italian artifacts recovered by investigators in July were valued at $10 million, and the six Egyptian pieces, recovered in February and May, were deemed to be worth $3.2 million, per the report.
In a statement, the Met said that its collecting policies have evolved over the years. The museum said it has also made efforts to respond ethically in matters regarding looted items.
“The norms of collecting have changed significantly in recent decades, and The Met’s policies and procedures in this regard have been under constant review over the past 20 years,” wrote museum officials.
The museum said that “unique and complex circumstances” surround each of the items in question and that it has been “fully supportive” of the series of investigations conducted by the office of Manhattan DA Alvin L. Bragg.
The Egyptian artifacts set for repatriation include a portrait of a woman entitled “Lady with a Blue Mantle,” reportedly worth over $1.2 million, placing it among the most valuable pieces seized during the investigations.
Another highly valued item was a $1.2 million Greek terra-cotta drinking cup, called a kylix, with origins dating back to approximately 470 B.C., according to the Times.
The Met reportedly purchased the item in 1979 from the Swiss-based gallery of Gianfranco Becchina, who has since been convicted of acquiring roughly 6,3000 Greco-Roman artifacts looted in operations beginning in the 1970s, per the outlet.
According to the DA’s office, eight of the confiscated antiques were purchased from Becchina’s gallery. Many of the acquisitions reportedly occurred prior to the gallerist’s conviction, yet an expert criticized the museum for not reviewing all transactions with Becchina after he was first publicly accused, according to the Times.
The museum said that it was only recently made aware of the history of the Italian artifacts and has been cooperative and compliant amid ongoing investigations.
According to Bragg, now is the time for museums, galleries, collectors and auctioneers to right any potential wrongs they’ve been involved with.
In a statement, Bragg said: “The investigations conducted by my office have clearly exposed these networks, and put into the public domain a wealth of information the art world can proactively use to return antiquities to where they rightfully belong.”
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