MANHATTAN (CN) – The United States is returning to Italy a Renaissance painting that was brought into the country with falsified Customs documents. The painting, “Leda and the Swan,” by 16th-century artist Lelio Orsi, shows the Greek god Zeus, as a swan, seducing the mortal Leda.
The 17-by-12-inch oil on copper painting was brought to the United States after being sold to someone who filled out false Customs documents claiming that it came from Great Britain, according to the federal complaint. It was then sold at Sotheby’s for $1 million.
The forfeiture action resulted from an Italian criminal investigation. Italian authorities routinely investigate important artworks that are exported from the country.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office for the Court of Rome sought legal assistance from the United States in March 2008 and asked that the painting be returned to Italy.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office then seized the painting.
“These are precisely the types of treasures that ICE HSI’s [Homeland Security Investigations] Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit was established to identify and investigate,” Agent-in-Charge James Hayes said in a statement.
“Having ICE agents specifically trained in conducting investigations of illicitly trafficked cultural property and art has provided our agents with the necessary tools to identify violations, conduct criminal investigations and, ultimately, return stolen objects of a nation’s cultural heritage to their rightful owners.”