Boston's Museum of Fine Arts surrendered 13 works of ancient art to Italy today after hearing evidence from officials in Rome that the antiquities had been looted from archaeological sites around the country.
The trove includes a marble statue of the Roman empress Sabina that towers over 6 1/2 feet, 11 vases dating back 2,500 years and a carved marble stand depicting Greek gods.
The agreement is part of a broader effort by Italy to repatriate looted antiquities from foreign museums and prevent further pillaging of ancient sites. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art handed ownership of 21 antiquities to Italy in February, and the Los Angeles-based J. Paul Getty Museum has agreed in principle to relinquish antiquities to Italy.
``When we acquired these objects, we acquired them in good faith,'' Museum of Fine Arts Director Malcolm Rogers said at a handover ceremony in Rome. ``More evidence has come to light.''
Italian government negotiators have presented U.S. museums with evidence gathered for a series of antiquities trials. Police found photos of the Sabina statue, seemingly covered with a layer of dirt, in a 1995 raid on the Geneva warehouse of Roman art dealer Giacomo Medici, who is appealing a December 2004 smuggling conviction.
Rogers wouldn't say whether the museum had determined that the antiquities had been looted or what evidence he'd seen.
``We determined that the proper home for these objects was Italy,'' he said.
In return, Italy will loan ``significant works'' to the Museum of Fine Arts, and the museum and Italian government will cooperate on scholarship, conservation and archaeological investigation, according to the agreement.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Francesco Rutelli, who is also minister of culture, said he would bring such a loan -- as yet unnamed -- with him to Boston in November.
At the ceremony in the Ministry of Culture, Rutelli pulled a white sheet off the Sabina statue, revealing it to a phalanx of TV cameras. The other objects stood on a nearby table.
They will all go on public display for a week, starting Oct. 10, at the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in Rome. The government then plans to distribute the works to museums in the territories where they are believed to have been illegally excavated.
The Getty's former antiquities curator, Marion True, is on trial in Rome for conspiracy and handling looted antiquities. She denies the charges. Some of the objects returned today came through True's co-defendant, Paris- and New York-based dealer Robert Hecht, who denies charges that he sold stolen art.
The Boston museum initiated the talks with Italy after Bloomberg News reported on Oct. 31, 2005, that at least 22 items from the museum's collection were named in the Rome antiquities trials as being looted or coming from smugglers.
Rogers said there were no plans for the museum to return more.