New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art today offered to return 20 artifacts in its collection to Italy, which says the ancient art was looted.
The disputed items include a 2,500-year-old vase painted by the Greek artist Euphronios, a 15-piece set of Hellenistic silver and four ancient pots.
The Euphronios vase is ``one of the finest existing examples of an Attic krater,'' a vessel used to mix wine with water, the Met's Web site says, referring to the museum's vase from Athens. It depicts a Trojan War scene from the Iliad in which Zeus's dead son, Sarpedon, is carried off the battlefield.
Met representatives made the proposal to the Italian Culture Ministry in Rome, museum spokesman Harold Holzer said in an interview. If the proposal is accepted by the Italian government, the museum said in a statement that it would receive long-term loans of art from Italy of ``equivalent beauty and importance.''
``The proposal follows the receipt of evidentiary documents provided to the Museum by the Ministry, and positive discussions last week between Italian Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione and Philippe de Montebello, director of the Museum,'' the Met's e- mailed statement said.
Negotiations began with a Nov. 22 meeting in Rome between the Met director and Italian officials at which de Montebello said he would return items if shown proof they were looted from Italy.
The Italian government responded Jan. 12, sending the Met evidence to back its demand that the museum return all the objects, said Maurizio Fiorilli, a lawyer for the Culture Ministry. In addition to long-term loans of other artworks, the government offered to cooperate with the museum on archaeological digs in Italy, he said.
When asked whether the Met's board would need to ratify the proposed agreement if the Italians accept it, Met spokesman Holzer said: ``The trustees authorized the framework that was presented to the Italian government today.''
Holzer said there had been ``no discussion'' of a timetable for returning the artworks. ``That will undoubtedly be the next step'' if the Italians accept the museum's proposal, he said.
The talks with the Met are part of a broader push by Italian authorities to seize antiquities they say were illegally excavated or exported, including items at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey, the Cleveland Museum of Art and others.
$1 Million Sale
The Getty's director, Michael Brand, met Jan. 27 with Italian officials in Rome to discuss allegedly looted antiquities in the Getty collection.
The Italian evidence for the Met's allegedly looted pots comes largely from the trial of Roman art dealer Giacomo Medici, who was convicted in December 2004 of smuggling objects that are now at the Met, Getty and other museums, Fiorilli said. Medici, 67, denies the charges and is free while appealing his conviction and 10-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors charge that Medici bought the Euphronios krater from tomb robbers who had excavated the pot in Cerveteri, near Rome. He then sold it to Robert Hecht, a U.S. dealer who sold the krater to the Met for $1 million in 1972, the charges say.
Hecht, 86, is on trial in Rome for smuggling dozens of antiquities, including the Euphronios krater and the 15-piece set of silver that prosecutors say was looted from Morgantina, in Sicily. Hecht denies the charges. The silver isn't part of Medici's case.
Proof that the silver came from Italy includes an excavation site found by investigators and conversations between police and clandestine diggers, said Malcolm Bell, an archaeologist at the University of Virginia who heads the official Morgantina digs.
Italy's evidence that the krater was looted includes Hecht's handwritten memoir, seized in a search of his Paris apartment. According to the memoir, Medici approached Hecht in Rome about the sale of the krater, and the two then traveled to Switzerland to see it in storage and complete the sale.
The tale from the memoir contradicts Hecht's official version of events, in which he said he bought the pot from a Lebanese man whose father acquired it earlier in the century. Hecht says his memoir is a work of fiction.
Hecht's co-defendant in the Rome trial is Marion True, 57, the former curator of antiquities at the Getty.
True and another former Getty curator, Jiri Frel, have said in depositions that a Met curator, Dietrich von Bothmer, gave them the exact location of the tomb site in Cerveteri from which the Euphronios krater was looted.
Von Bothmer, 87, the former head of the Met's Greek and Roman department, says he did no such thing and doesn't know where the pot came from.