On Nov. 22, Philippe de Montebello, the director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, walked up a cobblestone street in Rome and into a palazzo connected to the chambers where Galileo faced the Inquisition 372 years earlier.
Inside the Italian Culture Ministry's headquarters, curators, police and the minister of culture himself showed evidence to the chief of the Western Hemisphere's biggest art museum that the Met harbored looted antiquities -- both in its collection and loaned by wealthy donors, some of whom run the museum as trustees.
Three months later, de Montebello agreed to return 21 of the Met's gems to Italy, among them a 2,500-year-old vase painted by the Greek artist Euphronios.
While Italy secured a victory in this instance, the Met remains enmeshed in a broader tangle of donors, trustees and curators, some of whom have dealt in illicit antiquities, according to Italian and U.S. court decisions.
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