The Italian government has floated a deal by which Boston's Museum of Fine Arts would return allegedly looted objects and Italy would loan the museum antiquities of equal value, the Globe has learned.
The proposal was made in May, when MFA leaders traveled to Rome to meet with the Ministry of Culture, said ministry official Giuseppe Proietti.
If accepted, the deal would be similar to that struck earlier this year by the Italians with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Met agreed in February to return six objects --including the famous, 2,500-year-old Euphronios krater. In return, the Met will receive objects ``of equivalent beauty and importance" for as long as four years, the longest Italian law will allow. In addition, the Italians will permit the Met to conduct arch eological digs in Italy, and to take out loans of works discovered.
The Italians have made the MFA a similar offer, said Proietti.
``Italy has one of the richest collections of ancient art in the world," Proietti said. ``The United States doesn't have an ancient heritage. This does not mean that American citizens should not be able to see arch eological material in their own museums."
Katherine Getchell, the deputy director of the MFA, who attended the May meeting in Rome,wouldn't speak of the specifics of the negotiations. In a statement yesterday, she said: ``We view the discussions as productive and are giving careful consideration to the information provided by the Ministry at the meeting in order to determine appropriate next steps."
Proietti said that the MFA officials, who also included museum director Malcolm Rogers, were given evidence materials that should prove that certain objects in Boston were removed from Italy illegally. Proietti would not provide the list to the Globe, or name the objects.
``It's clear that what we want is to have those pieces back," he said.
The negotiations between the MFA and the Italians are taking place in the midst of the high-profile trial of former J. Paul Getty Museum curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht. They are accused of being part of an art-smuggling ring that placed works illegally taken from Italian soil in American museums, including the MFA.
The Getty and Metropolitan Museum of Art have agreed to return a number of antiquities. Princeton University Art Museum is also in negotiations with the Italian government.
Harold Holzer, the Met's vice president for communications, would not discuss the MFA's case. But he said that the Met had been eager to resolve its case. Officials from the Met went to Rome in November; three months later, the agreement was signed.
``The Metropolitan had been asked for a meeting for many months, maybe even many years," said Holzer. ``We wanted to do this, to have our meeting and have our exchange of information."
I'm still wondering why it's all American museums which seem to be the focus here; I find it hard to believe that everything in European museums have sparkling clean provenances ...