Italian authorities' suspicions that the Princeton University Art Museum owns antiquities allegedly plundered from Italy are broader than museum officials first revealed in November, The Times has learned.
The Italians requested documentation from the Princeton museum in December 2004 for ownership history and related information on four objects in its collection of about 60,000 items, Princeton Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee disclosed in an interview Friday.
Last November, museum officials said in a statement that only two objects in their collection -- each originating in ancient Greece more than 2,300 years ago -- had drawn the attention of Italian investigators looking to reclaim antiquities allegedly smuggled from Italy, primarily from legally protected archeological sites.
At the time, the museum indicated in response to questions from The Times that "Italian authorities investigating an alleged violation of the laws of Italy requested details about the (museum's) acquisition in 1989 of two ancient Greek painted ceramic vases."
The museum's November statement made no mention of any other of its items falling under Italian suspicion as being looted art or pillaged archeological treasure.
But it indicated the museum complied with Italy's request the month after receiving it, had bought the vases in good faith and had no knowledge of wrongdoing associated with their acquisition despite recent press accounts suggesting the Italians have evidence the two vases left Italy illegally and should be returned.
On Friday, Durkee said museum officials only mentioned the Italians' inquiry into the two vases, without a word about the other two disputed objects, because they had concluded from press reports that Italy was focusing the Princeton angle of its antiquities-looting investigation on the vases.
The other two objects are a small Roman silver cup and a small fragment of an Etruscan terra-cotta plaque, he said.
Durkee had no information immediately available regarding details about the cup and the plaque -- such as their age or when the museum obtained them -- he said, explaining that museum Director Susan Taylor was traveling and unable to provide him those specifics.
Italian criminal investigators reportedly have tracked more than 100 prized items of antiquity allegedly looted from Italy since 1939 to eight major U.S. museums and to galleries, private collections and museums in Europe and Asia -- including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The long-running looting investigation has netted the Italians convictions against Roman antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici and brought criminal charges against two of his alleged high-profile co-conspirators: Marion True, the Getty's former antiquities curator, and American art dealer Robert E. Hecht Jr., who lives in New York City and Paris.
Medici, True and Hecht have denied wrongdoing, but publicity about the criminal campaign against them has helped the Italians pressure the museums ensnared in the dragnet to return looted antiquities.
In February, the Met became the first major U.S. museum tied to the investigation to strike an accord under which it will return some long-disputed treasures -- 21 in all -- from its collection that Italy claims as antiquities stolen from its soil.
The objects include the crown jewel of the Met's Greek galleries -- a 2,500-year-old vase known as the Euphronios krater that the Met bought for a reported $1 million in 1972, according to The New York Times.
In exchange, the Met, which reportedly initiated the negotiations that led to the agreement with the Italian government, will get long-term loans of prestigious objects from Italian collections.
Whether Princeton or other museums will work out similar arrangements with Italy remains to be seen, though analysts have described the Met's pact as a breakthrough other museums might emulate.
Taylor, the director of Princeton's art museum since 2000, said via e-mail that she commends the Met for "reaching an agreement with the Italian government that best serves the public interest."
But she said that agreement doesn't change Princeton's stance in its dispute with Italy. "We have sent a clear message to the Italians that we are prepared to consider any evidence they have and to discuss these matters with them," she said.
So far, though, Princeton has had no direct communication from the Italians since their December 2004 inquiry about the silver Roman cup, the Etruscan plaque fragment and two vases, Durkee said Friday.
One of the vases is a 12-inch-tall psykter, a mushroom-shaped vase for cooling wine from about 510 B.C. in the Attic region of Greece.
The other is a 22-inch-tall Apulian red-figure loutrophoros from about 330 B.C. in Italy's southeast region of Apulia. Oxford University describes a loutrophoros as a kind of ceremonial vessel that held bridal-bath water for weddings or was placed in the graves of single women.
An Italian law in place since 1939 stipulates that ancient artifacts subsequently found in a dig on that country's soil belong to the state.
That law also forbids antiquities excavated after the law took effect from leaving Italy except on loan, according to The Associated Press.
The Times' repeated requests for comment on the Princeton specific to the Princeton objects -- placed both with the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and with Maurizio Fiorilli, legal adviser to the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs in Rome -- have gone unanswered.
In a brief phone interview last week, Fiorilli did say Italy in the near future will "ask many museums if they are open to a discussion about the cultural items that are in their collections. This is in a framework of a culture of collaboration."
Princeton has been and remains willing to discuss the matter with the Italians, Taylor and Durkee said.
So far, though, the university says it has received no information from them -- or anyone -- disproving its museum's position that the four disputed objects have a smuggling-free ownership history.
But Durkee said some of the disputed pieces have gaps in their documented ownership histories, which both he and Taylor said shouldn't be taken to mean they passed through the hands of antiquities smugglers.
Just because "we can't say we can trace (some) piece every single step of the way . . . doesn't mean there was something improper," Durkee said.