Dozens of antiquities returned to Italy under hard-won accords with US museums, notably the Getty, were unveiled here Monday in what Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli called a new "season of cooperation."
"After the season of trafficking and dispute, now we have entered the season of cooperation," Rutelli told a news conference in the sumptuous Quirinale Palace, the official presidential residence where the public will be able to view the 68 recovered works from Friday.
A beaming Rutelli hailed an "epochal change" in the world of antiquities trafficking, noting that even private collectors had begun returning works.
Five of the antiquities in the show, "Capolavori Ritrovati" (Recovered Masterpieces), are from the private Royal Athena Galleries in New York.
The lion's share, 42, are from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, including three that were recovered earlier, after a heated dispute lasting nearly two years.
The agreement between Rome and the Getty, similar to ones reached with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, also calls for cultural collaboration to include long-running loans of significant artworks and joint exhibitions and projects.
In an apparent bid to universalise the issue of trafficking in antiquities, organisers selected a work returned from the MFA, a second-century marble statue of the Roman empress Vibia Sabina, as the leading object, both in the show and in the publicity for it.
The Boston museum handed over another 11 works exhibited in the show, which will run until March 2.
The Getty, one of the world's wealthiest museums, also returned a sixth-century BC marble Kore from the Greek island of Paros to Greece, which lent the work to Italy for the show, where it has pride of place at the entrance to the opulent three halls of the Quirinale's Alessandro VII Gallery.
The exhibit's tagline "Nostoi" refers to a lost epic of ancient Greek literature relating the return home of the Greek heroes after the end of the Trojan War.
Six items come from the Met, and one from the University Museum of Art in Princeton, New Jersey.
In an agreement announced in August, the Getty agreed to return the objects to Italy, at the museum's expense. A fifth-century BC Cult Statue of a Goddess, usually referred to as the Aphrodite, however, will not come home until 2010.
The two sides also agreed to postpone discussion of the fate of another hotly disputed work, the Statue of a Victorious Youth, pending the outcome of legal proceedings that are under way in Pesaro, Italy.
Dating from the 4th century BC, the work often referred to as the Getty Bronze is considered one of the greatest bronze statues to survive from ancient Greece and was acquired by the Getty for nearly four million dollars in 1977.
The statue was found underwater by Italian fishermen, but Italy says it was illegally exported.
The Getty, set up by US oil billionaire and collector J. Paul Getty and one of the world's richest art museums, insists it never knowingly bought illegally uncovered artifacts.
It acquired many of the disputed works through an Italian dealer, Giacomo Medici, who was based in Geneva. Medici, described by Italian prosecutors as the "kingpin" in the international trade in looted Italian antiquities, is currently appealing a conviction and 10-year prison term.
Meanwhile Marion True, former Getty curator who dealt with Medici, is on trial in Rome.