New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months
Antiquities looted from Italy have ended up in New York museums and galleries including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an investigation has revealed. (Photo by SPENCER PLATT / Getty Images via AFP)

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.

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Florence mayor defends US teacher forced to quit in row over David statue

A Florence museum and the city’s mayor invited pupils and parents at a Florida school to the city to view Michelangelo’s ‘David’ after complaints about a lesson featuring the statue forced the principal to resign.

Florence mayor defends US teacher forced to quit in row over David statue

The mayor of the Italian city of Florence on Saturday defended a Florida school principal who resigned after a parent complained students were exposed to “pornography” during an art lesson that featured Michelangelo’s David sculpture. 

“A Florida teacher was forced to quit for showing students photos of Michelangelo’s David. Mistaking art for pornography is just ridiculous,” said Florence mayor Dario Nardella in a tweet.

“I will personally invite the teacher to Florence to give her recognition on behalf of the city,” Nardella added.

“Art is civilization and whoever teaches it deserves respect.”

The famed 16th century marble statue, which depicts the biblical figure David in the nude, is housed in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia art museum. 

Tallahassee Classical School principal Hope Carrasquilla resigned after the school board reportedly told her to step down or be fired over the incident.

One parent reportedly complained that the material shown to the sixth-grade art class was pornographic, and two others said they should have been warned about the lesson beforehand.

The school reportedly has a policy requiring parents to be notified in advance about any “controversial” topics being taught.

In Italy the Renaissance and its masterpieces, including nude sculptures, are generally seen as uncontroversial.

Leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera’s front page on Sunday featured a satirical cartoon depicting David with his genitals covered by an image of Uncle Sam and the word “Shame.”

Galleria dell’Accademia director Cecilie Hollberg told AFP the controversy was “absolutely astonishing”.

“We are talking about the icon of the Renaissance, Michelangelo’s David, which has been recognised across the world for generations,” Hollberg said in a telephone interview.

She said the statue was hailed for its beauty and “purity”, adding: “One must have a twisted mind to combine nudity with what was suggested, because obviously there is a big difference between nudity and pornography.”

The director decried “a huge ignorance” about history and the history of art which, “more than anything, is quite sad.”

She warned that “we are really losing our connection with our culture and history… to think that once in Greece, at the Olympic Games, everyone was naked!”