MANHATTAN (CN) – Stolen from a Vatican banker’s villa used by both Benito Mussolini and the Allied Army before and after World War II, a Roman marble statue will return to Italy, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
The Torlonia Peplophoros, a sculpture of a young goddess, is named after Italian marquis Giovanni Torlonia. Torlonia bought a villa in 1797 that remained in the family for exactly two centuries and now bears his name.
Between 1925 and 1943, Benito Mussolini used the villa as his personal residence, and then the Allied High Command occupied it from 1944 to 1947, prosecutors said.
The villa and its artifacts fell into disrepair until the municipality of Rome bought it from the Torlonia family three decades later, opened it to the public, and worked to restore its cultural heritage, according to a forfeiture complaint.
A large art heist interrupted this restoration process.
“During the night of Nov. 11, 1983 and the following morning, an unknown number of thieves stole approximately 15 statues and other items from the villa,” the complaint stated. “The Torlonia Peplophoros was among the stolen statues.”
In the late 1990s, an undisclosed New York gallery acquired the statue and sold it to an unnamed buyer for $81,000 in 2001, prosecutors say.
“The buyer became aware that the Torlonia Peplophoros was stolen when the buyer attempted to offer it for sale through a New York City auction house, and voluntarily
turned it over to the FBI in late 2015,” the complaint stated.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the case demonstrates his office’s determination to “recover and return stolen treasures no matter how long they have been missing.”
Bharara added, “The Torlonia Peplophoros was stolen in a brazen theft more than 30 years ago, and we are proud to have recovered it so it can finally be returned to its rightful owners.”
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