ROME — Italy has been so successful in recovering ancient art and artifacts illegally exported from the country that it has created a museum for them.
The Museum of Rescued Art opened on Wednesday in a cavernous structure that is part of the ancient Baths of Diocletian in Rome. The Octagonal Hall exhibition space was designed to showcase Italy’s efforts, through patient diplomacy and legal challenges, to repatriate valuable antiquities, often after decades in museums. foreigners or private collections.
The exhibits in the new museum will change every few months as the exhibits return to what experts consider their home territory, many of which were places that were part of the ancient Etruscan or Magna Grecia civilizations of the center. or southern Italy. The inaugural exhibition revolves around one hundred artifacts out of 260 recovered by the country’s Carabinieri paramilitary art team in the United States and brought back to Italy in December 2021.
The exhibits, found during clandestine excavations and exported illegally, include beautifully carved Etruscan figurines and imposing painted jars dating back to centuries BC. The objects were previously held by museums, auction houses and private collections.
The new museum in Rome exhibits objects “never seen in Italy”, said Massimo Osanna, director general of Italian state museums. In her previous role, Osanna had long been responsible for reviving the fortunes of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city near Naples, one of the world’s most famous archaeological cities which itself was heavily plundered by robbers. antiques from past generations.
Recently recovered antiquities date from before the Roman era, dating from the 8th to 4th centuries BC.
A particularly striking piece, from the 7th century BC, is a ceramic jar, painted red on white and standing over a meter (40 inches) high. Decorated with images of horses and cats, it depicts the mythological scene of the blinding of Polyphemus, a one-eyed man-eating creature.
The choice of jar decoration likely indicates that the Etruscan elite was bilingual and “fascinated by Greek myth,” Osanna told The Associated Press in an interview. They were “Etruscan heroes who identified with Greek heroes,” he said.
Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini explained the decision to opt for a series of rotating exhibitions in the new museum instead of establishing a permanent collection of rescued art. “We thought it was right for the coins to go back to where they were stolen,” Franceschini said.
In some cases, experts do not know the exact original location of the antiquities, pointing to the irreparable damage caused when archaeological treasures are smuggled out. Parts of unknown origin will be returned within the general geographic area.
The exhibition space is part of the National Roman Museum. Its current exhibit runs until October 15, when the museum will showcase another batch of salvaged antiquities.
Among the centerpieces of the current “survival art” exhibition are two terracotta heads, bisected vertically, part of a group of Etruscan votive pieces from the 4th to 3rd centuries BC.
Another striking piece is a well-preserved and richly decorated Etruscan funerary box, decorated with images of a warrior, a horse and a cat.
While Italy proudly boasts of having recovered some 3 million artefacts and works of art since the creation of a special Carabinieri cultural heritage safeguard unit in 1969, it is also trying to incite countries to return ancient pieces identified with other cultures.
Earlier this month, Italy returned a fragment of a Parthenon frieze to Athens that had been in an archaeological museum in Sicily. Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, claimed the so-called “Fagan fragment” was rightfully in Italy, but said his country wanted to “affirm the principle of restoring cultural wealth to reconnect artistic historical heritage with places and peoples of origin”.
Some treasures have so far escaped Italy’s efforts to obtain them. Carabinieri commanding General Teo Luzi spoke wistfully during the debut of the new museum of the hope that Italy would one day recover the ‘Victorious Youth’, a footless bronze statue that was found by an Italian fishing boat in the Adriatic Sea in 1964. She was eventually purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.
In 2018 Italy’s highest court ruled that the museum should return the statue to Italy. But the museum, insisting the statue was fished from international waters, disputed the order.
Francesco Sportelli contributed from Rome
Image credits: AP