The US Returned 266 Antiquities to Italy

The US Recently Returned 266 Seized Antiquities to Italy, Including Items Connected to Art Dealer Robin Symes.

Aug 15, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
The US and Italy
Rome skyline. Via Wikipedia


The US just recently returned almost three hundred stolen artifacts from recent years. Before returning, they were part of art collectors and museum collections. The authorities spoke about their worth: they are “several tens of millions of euros” worth. From total number, the authorities seized 145 artifacts from an art dealer Robert Symes. They found them in his storage facility in NY.


Symes Involvement in the US investigation

The US
This Apulian calyx krater vase from 335 BCE was one of the returned items. COURTESY THE MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE


Symes also offered 65 artifacts to the Menil Collection in Houston. But, the institution declined on an offer to take them. The art sector of Carabinieri military police released a report, describing how the art dealer returned them the country’s culture ministry after investigation proved he is guilty. That is, after the proof they came “from clandestine excavations in archaeological areas”.


The illegal export followed these events. Italian forces said the items already belonged to the Menil Collection, but the institution said differently. The institution’s representative directed art collector to the minister, when an art dealer approached the institution last year regarding gifting the artefacts. The Italian culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano notified the facility that Italy was seeking the items.


A 5th century BC amphora attributed to the “Berlin Painter.” Courtesy of the Museum


“The Menil Collection declined these works from the collector and they have never been part of the museum’s collection”, a Menil Collection spokesperson said in a statement. Some artifacts, precisely 42, have a worth of $3.5 million, the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg said. Symes and The Metropolitan Museum of Art have a connection to many of them.

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What’s Stolen?

horn saint blaise
The so-called Horn of Saint Blaise, 1100-1200 CE, Sicily or Southern Italy, via the Cleveland Museum of Art


The Manhattan DA’s office also said the 42 pieces it returned to Italy were recovered as part of several ongoing criminal investigations, and had previously been trafficked by prominent smugglers. These include Giacomo Medici, Giovanni Franco Becchina, and Edoardo Almagià. The items returned include a large Apulian calyx krater vase from 335 BCE, two Etruscan tile paintings from 440 BCE, five gold coins, and a gold fibula, a type of brooch or clasp from the late 3rd or early 4th century CE.


The return of these 266 items marks the fifth repatriation in less than three months connected to Symes. Last month, the Manhattan DA’s office repatriated two items to Libya estimated its worth to $1.26 million. In May, Italy displayed 750 artifacts that had also been recovered from Symes’s company, Symes Ltd, which is in the process of liquidation.


pantheon tempio canoviano
Tempio Canoviano, completed in 1830 after Canova’s death, Possagno, Italy, via official website


Symes was convicted of contempt of court for lying about antiquities he held in storage locations around the world in 2005. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but only served seven months.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.