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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Old Stolen Art Leaving New York for Italy

MANHATTAN (CN) - Though their thefts from Italy decades ago remain unsolved, U.S. investigators held a repatriation ceremony Tuesday to return an ancient Etruscan statue of Herakles and an 18th century painting of St. Clement.

Standing at 5 inches tall, the bronze statuette swiped form the Museo Oliveriano in Pesaro, Italy, on Jan. 7, 1964, was "small but important," Deputy U.S. Attorney Richard Zabel told the onlookers gathered in the second-floor law library at 1 St. Andrews Plaza, the headquarters for New York's federal prosecutors.

Unlike Greek depictions of Hercules, the Etruscan depiction of the god depicts him as youthful and beardless, and the bronze rendering dates back to the 5th and 6th centuries B.C.E.

"The thieves that stole the statuette stole other items as well, including ivory tablets of the 9th and 13th centuries, early Christian glass artifacts from the catacombs of Rome, and Italic and Roman statuettes," Zabel said.

An order returning the Herakles bronze does not identify the Swiss and New York art dealers who sold the statue later in the '60s.

Nor does it assign any blame to noted collector Eugene Thaw, whom the documents says bought the statute "without knowledge of the theft" for his gallery E.V. Thaw & Co. sometime that decade or in the 1970s.

Thaw, a longtime trustee at the Morgan Library and widely published author, allowed the FBI to seize the statue without litigation. A representative of his charitable trust did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Upper East Side gallery Ward & Co. also did not know the statue was stolen when consigning it for sale in the 1990s, prosecutors say.

Only three years ago, in 2012, did Italian law enforcement learn that Ward intended to sell the statue.

Thaw, the statue's "sole owner," agreed to return it to the Museo Oliveriano in a signed order on Oct. 2, 2014.

The other repatriated work, a painting attributed to 18th century painter Giambattista Tiepolo and titled "The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement," had been stolen from the house of a private collector in Turin on Aug. 24, 1982, its repatriation order states.

Calling the work an example of 18th century Rococo style, Zabel noted that the painting depicted the pope said to be the third successor to St. Peter.

Italy's Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage discovered during a "routine online search" that Christie's had slated it for auction on Jan. 29, 2014.

At the time, the work had been valued in euros at the equivalent of more than half a million dollars, Zabel said at the conference.

Dublin-based company IAI Investment Art International, which consigned the work for sale months earlier, "denied any knowledge" that it was stolen, the order states.

Courthouse News could not locate a functioning email address for the company by press time.

Deputy U.S. Attorney Zabel remarked that both "consignors did not lawful and ethical thing," by returning the works without the need for forfeiture litigation.

Lt. Antonio Coppola, a Carabinieri investigator who also spoke at the ceremony, declined to reveal further details of either theft, citing an active investigation.

The 5-inch tall Etruscan bronze stood on a small table left of the podium where Zabel spoke, and the 18th century painting rested on a tripod several feet away from the law books that lined the wall of the room.

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