The Cleveland Museum of Art agreed Wednesday to return 13 antiquities and a late Gothic processional cross to Italy after government authorities proved that the works had been looted, stolen or illegally exported.
The museum and authorities from the Ministry for Cultural Assets and Activities announced the agreement at a press conference in Rome 3 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. E.S.T.
The agreement, the first of its kind between the Cleveland museum and a foreign country, concludes what officials on both sides called a friendly and collaborative 18-month negotiation.
"I'm very pleased," Timothy Rub, director of the museum, said Wednesday, speaking by phone from Rome. "I think it's always difficult when adverse claims are made against an object or objects in a museum's collection, but the most important thing to do is to first of all determine if these claims have any merit, and if they do, to deal with them as transparently and as thoroughly as possible. This has been a very open and thoughtful discussion."
Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian state lawyer who represented the ministry in the negotiations, praised Rub and the Cleveland museum.
"The director is an exquisite person," Fiorilli said by phone from Rome. "This was a negotiation among gentlemen. They always collaborated and exhibited great openness, therefore, I am content."
Fiorilli said he anticipated a positive reaction in Italy, "because I think that public opinion can really appreciate that this is another reaction to counteract the illicit traffic" in antiquities.
Rub signed a document formalizing the agreement with Giuseppe Proietti, the secretary general of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Assets and Activities. Sandro Bondi, the head of the agency, also attended the signing, along with Fiorilli.
The accord with Cleveland is the latest in a series of negotiations in which Italy has persuaded American museums to return antiquities unearthed by tomb robbers, or "tombaroli," and ultimately sold to unwitting museums.
The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, have all agreed to return scores of artworks.
The Cleveland deal includes Italy's agreement to loan the museum 13 antiquities similar to those being returned to Italy, for a renewable 25-year period. Italy will collaborate on an exhibition of artworks from state museums and other initiatives.
The 14th object, a 14th-century processional cross from Trequanda, a small town outside Siena, was stolen from a local church after World War II, and will be returned by the Cleveland museum as a gift, Fiorilli said. The museum had purchased the object in 1977.
Both sides agreed to form a joint scientific commission to perform further research on the large ancient bronze statue of Apollo acquired by the museum in 2004, plus an additional small ancient bronze chariot ornament in the form of a winged victory.
The Apollo has been a subject of controversy because it lacks a complete provenance, or ownership history. The museum has said the work belonged to a collection in the former East Germany before World War II. Scientific evidence shows the work was excavated at least 100 years ago, before the advent of contemporary laws governing international trade in antiquities.
If Italian scientists feel that new tests show that the work was excavated more recently, the Apollo could become the subject of a fresh round of negotiations, Fiorilli said.
Italy originally presented the Cleveland museum with a list of 42 objects about which Italian authorities had questions, including the Apollo and a widely admired South Italian Medea vase. The list ultimately was whittled to 14, including many from South Italy, formerly a hotbed of looting.
Fiorilli said that evidence connecting the Cleveland artworks to illegal activity included photographs, letters and other documents obtained in a 1995 raid on a Swiss warehouse.
That evidence and information from subsequent investigations linked the artworks to convicted antiquities smuggler Giacomo de Medici and others in his circle, Fiorilli said.
They include the American art dealer Robert Hecht, the English dealer Robin Symes, and Fritz Burki a Swiss art restorer close to Medici, who restored the famous Euphronios Krater, a large ceramic vessel returned to Italy recently by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Rub said the agreement with Italy is based on the understanding that neither the museum nor its directors or curators are in any way tainted by the return of objects.
Instead, Rub said, the understanding is that the museum innocently acquired objects that "clearly were associated with bad actors" at some point in their past.
Rub also said the museum purchased all the artworks in question after the 1970 UNESCO convention governing international trade in antiquities, aimed at halting illegal trade in antiquities.
The majority of the objects were purchased between the 1970s and the 1990s. Rub declined to give names of dealers involved in the histories of the objects. Perhaps the most significant object to be returned is an Apulian red-figured volute krater by the Dorias painter, which stands roughly four feet high.
Other works include Etruscan silver bracelets; a group of Neolithic Sardinian bronzes representing warriors; an Attic rhyton, or drinking vessel, in the shape of a mule; and a Corinthian column krater acquired by the museum in 1990.
"Our experience has been, and I say this in all sincerity, very positive," Rub said. "The representatives of the Italian government we've worked with have been dedicated to their work and to righting what they perceive as wrongs, as well they should. But they've also conducted these conversations reasonably and in a very thoughtful manner. We've looked at things together and come to conclusions that both sides believe are fair and equitable."
The original webpage has a very nice slideshow of the items that are part of this agreement ...