Da The New York Times del 29/09/2006
Originale su http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/29/arts/design/29mfa.html?_r=1&adxn...

Boston Museum Returns 13 Ancient Works to Italy

di Elisabetta Povoledo

ROME, Sept. 28 — After months of negotiations, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on Thursday formally turned over 13 archaeological treasures to Italy that cultural officials here say were looted from Italian soil.

A jar from about 335 B.C., one of the items turned over to Italy Thursday by the Museum of Fine Arts.

At a signing ceremony at the Italian Cultural Ministry, Malcolm Rogers, the Boston museum’s director, pledged his institution’s cooperation in halting plunder in archaeological source countries.

“We’re committed to seeing the end of illegal excavations and the illicit trade in archaeological works of art,” Mr. Rogers said. He emphasized that the two sides had formed a collegial relationship. “This is a new era of legality,” he said. “That’s why it’s very important to see the objects here in Rome.”

Although there had been signs in recent weeks that an accord was imminent, the objects involved had not been disclosed. Among them are a majestic statue of Sabina, the wife of the second-century Emperor Hadrian; a marble fragment depicting Hermes from the first century A.D.; and 11 ancient painted vases.

Lifting a white sheet with a flourish to unveil the Sabina, the Italian culture minister, Francesco Rutelli, said the piece would be returned to Tivoli to rejoin “her restless companion” at Hadrian’s Villa.

One of the artifacts, a two-handled amphora from the fourth century B.C. attributed to the so-called Darius Painter, was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in 1991 by Shelby White, a trustee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who owns many other objects that are being investigated by the Italian authorities.

Other pieces were sold through the American dealer Robert Hecht, who is now on trial in Rome with Marion True, a former curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum, on charges of dealing in illegally excavated works of art. The Sabina, for example, was acquired in 1979 from the Swiss dealer Fritz Bürki, with Mr. Hecht as an intermediary.

Still others were sold through a Swiss gallery, Palladion Antike Kunst, which is the focus of another Italian judicial investigation. The relief of Hermes was donated in 1992 by Cornelius Vermeule, the former curator of classical art at the Museum of Fine Arts. Scholars suggest it might have come from Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli.

Thursday’s accord closely resembles a pact reached last February with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York providing for the handover of 21 artifacts. As with the Met, the Italian government will lend “significant works” for exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts and collaborate on other projects like archaeological digs.

Mr. Rogers said the museum had acquired the works in “good faith.” But he said “the balance of evidence” presented by Italy “favored the return of the objects.” He declined to provide details on the evidence.

The signed accord refers only to the 13 works and will not prevent prosecutors from opening an investigation in the future, should questions arise about other artifacts.

“This closes one chapter as it opens a working relationship that will make it easy for the Italians to come and discuss with us,” Mr. Rogers said.

Italian prosecutors contend that over the last century museums around the world have enriched their antiquities collections by acquiring objects that were illegally excavated from Italian soil by tomb robbers and sold through unscrupulous dealers, often operating through Switzerland.

The collecting practices of American museums fell under sharp scrutiny after the indictment of Ms. True, former curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, along with Mr. Hecht in Rome.

Next week a Rome court is scheduled to hear the appeal of their co-defendant, Giacomo Medici, a dealer who was sentenced in 2004 to 10 years in prison and a fine of 10 million euros (about $12.7 million). Police officers found photographs of the statue of Sabina, encrusted with dirt, in a raid on Mr. Medici’s warehouse in Geneva in 1995.

Since the trial of Ms. True and Mr. Hecht began last November, Culture Ministry officials have met with delegations from several American museums to discuss the return of dozens of archaeological artifacts.

No officials from any American museum other than the Getty have been formally charged with wrongdoing.

Under the terms of Thursday’s agreement, the Boston museum will inform the Italian Culture Ministry of any future acquisitions, loans or donations of objects that could have an Italian origin. The Met refused to agree to a similar clause in its agreement with the Italian government.

Italian officials involved in the negotiations praised the Boston museum’s “open and honest” position. “They thought more about cultural projects than property,” said Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian government’s chief negotiator.

The museum also took the first step in the process, approaching the Culture Ministry in November 2005. Negotiations went relatively quickly, over several months, and included two meetings in Rome in May and July. For the last year the museum has posted information on the provenance of its artworks on its Web site, mfa.org.

“It’s an invitation for people to scrutinize the collection,” Mr. Rogers said. “If people come along and question an acquisition, we feel duty-bound to respond.”

Negotiations with the Getty over the return of more than 50 objects contested by the Italians have been more strained. Though an agreement to return 21 objects was tentatively reached in June, the details have not been made public.

Mr. Rutelli, the culture minister, would say only that he hoped a deal was “on the way” with the Getty.

He said he also hoped the pact with the Museum of Fine Arts would “accelerate other negotiations” with other American museums, which prosecutors say include the Princeton University Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“This is a powerful message they’re hearing,” he said. “We’re convinced that we’ve reached a turning point.”

Aside from the Sabina, the works returned by the Boston museum will go on view next month at the National Roman Museum here. In November Mr. Rutelli is to travel to Boston with the pieces lent by Italy. Officials said they have not yet been chosen.

On the same trip, Italian officials said, Mr. Rutelli will deliver a Laconian artifact to the Met for a four-year loan.

The Boston museum’s accord is to be deposited with Unesco, which drew up an international convention on the illicit traffic in cultural property in 1970. “This is a historic day, and we’re proud to be participating in it,” Mr. Rogers said.

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