TOLEDO, Ohio (CN) – A 2,500-year-old Etruscan water jug that has been on display at the Toledo Museum of Art will return to Italy, which values the 20 1/2-inch-tall kalpis at 500,000 euros, or about $665,000.
In a federal complaint against “One Etruscan Black-Figured Kalpis, Circa 510-500 B.C.,” Uncle Sam says the piece was stolen from an illegal excavation in Italy, exported by a convicted smuggler named Giacomo Medici, and illegally imported to the United States.
The Italian Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage raided a Geneva, Switzerland warehouse owned by Medici in 1995. “During the search, authorities discovered that numerous art pieces located in the storage room had what appeared to be illegal provenances, or documents that trace ownership of art objects,” according to the complaint. “Authorities seized these pieces with suspected illegal provenances as well as many commercial documents and photographs relating to thousands of archaeological items that had already been sold.
“The joint investigations conducted by Italian, Swiss and British police led to the determination that all of the recovered artifacts originated from illegal excavations in Italy, in violation of Italian law.
“On December 13, 2004, Medici was convicted of the intent to receive stolen archaeological artifacts illegally removed from Italy’s cultural patrimony. He was sentenced by the Tribunal of Rome to 10 years imprisonment and to a monetary compensation in the amount of 10,000,000 euros in damages to be paid to the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
“The defendant property was one of the items for which Medici was convicted.”
U.S. Customs officials constructively seized the kalpis from the Toledo Museum of Art on June 7, but it will remain in the museum’s possession until it is returned to Italian officials later this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach called it an example of federal officials “and the Toledo Museum of Art working collaboratively to return this artifact to its rightful place.”
In the statement, Dettelbach added: “We applaud the integrity of the Toledo Museum of Art for their willingness to ensure that this piece is repatriated to its home country.”
The “collaboration” and “willingness” Dettelbach mentioned were not echoed by the museum’s director, Brian Kennedy, who told the Toledo Blade that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents ignored requests for additional proof and repeatedly threatened to seize the artifact if it wasn’t simply handed over.
According to the Blade, Kennedy likened encounter to a drug bust. He said the museum had been trying to work out a cultural exchange with Italy, though no such efforts were mentioned in the federal complaint, or in Dettelbach’s press statement.