MANHATTAN (CN) — More than 30 years after a heist nabbed more than a dozen antiquities, U.S. authorities have returned a coveted statue of a limbless goddess to Italy’s capital.
International authorities hope to close in on the 14 others that remain soon.
Standing on a podium next to the FBI emblems at Manhattan’s New-York Historical Society, the Torlonia Peplophoros is a sculpture of a young goddess named after Italian marquis Giovanni Torlonia.
The goddess had resided in Torlonia’s two-century-old villa until Nov. 11, 1983, when thieves looted it along with other treasures.
After the case had been cold for decades, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office announced it had turned a corner earlier this year as it seized the statue. On Wednesday, those prosecutors stood side-by-side with the FBI and Italy’s Generale di Brigata Fabrizio Parrulli, decked out in his military attire.
Parrulli commands the carabinieri, which polices both Italy’s civilian and military populations. He celebrated the statue’s return in his prepared remarks and in an interview following the ceremony.
“We are very happy when something that belongs to the Italian patrimony can be brought back to our country, but it is not a matter of Italy,” he told Courthouse News. “It’s a matter of every country. When there is something that is stolen from a country, to come back to their own country, I think it’s very important, because these are symbol of the community, symbol of a nation.”
FBI agent Michael McGarrity, who heads the agency’s criminal division, painted the scene of the original heist in his prepared remarks.
“Late one November evening more than 30 years ago, the Torlonia Peplophoros stood limbless in her home in the Villa Torlonia, draped in a shawl representative of those worn by women of ancient Greece,” he said. “Her robust Roman marble frame would prove itself defenseless against the group of thieves who removed her from the villa in the dark of evening, stealing a total of 15 statues and other items.”
Authorities say that the statue will return to the Villa Torlonia, now a prominent art museum with a storied history.
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.
The first crack in the cold case occurred in the late 1990s, when prosecutors say an undisclosed New York gallery acquired the statue and sold it to an unnamed buyer for $81,000 at the turn of the millennium.
Prosecutors say that the buyer volunteered to turn the statue over to the FBI upon learning of its provenance.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joon Kim noted that prosecutors have kept busy lately returning art and cultural heritage to their countries and owners around the world, including a 10th century sandstone statue looted from a Cambodian temple, Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons whisked out of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, an “Ames” Stradavarius stolen from late violinist Roman Totenberg, and others.
Speaking of the Torlonia Peplophoros, Kim said: “Although this beautiful statue will return to her home in Rome, she takes her place in an honored spot in our imaginary museum of artifacts returned.”
The FBI says its Art Crime Team has made more than 11,800 recoveries, with an estimated value of more than $160 million.