US Returns 600 Stolen Artifacts to Italy

Worth $80 million, hundreds of looted objects—from ancient bronze statues to mosaic floors—were put on display for a celebration in Rome.

May 29, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Tuesday’s presentation of 600 recovered artifacts, photographed by Emanuele Antonio Minerva. Source: Italian Ministry of Culture.


This week, Italy celebrated the return of around 600 looted artifacts from the United States, including statues, mosaics, manuscripts, coins, ceramics, and paintings. Tuesday’s presentation in Rome was the latest in Italy’s decades-long operation to recover countless stolen artifacts.


Returned Artifacts Are Worth $80 Million

Recovered objects on display in Rome, photographed by Emanuele Antonio Minerva. Source: Italian Ministry of Culture.


Italy has been working for decades to recover artifacts that were looted by “tombaroli” tomb raiders. In Italy’s latest roundup of looted artifacts, approximately 600 stolen artifacts were returned from the United States to Italy, having been illegally sold to American museums, galleries, auction houses, and collectors. Worth a total of abouut $80 million, the objects were recovered during international criminal investigations into art and cultural heritage theft.


Tuesday’s presentation of the 600 recovered artifacts took place at the Central Institute for Restoration in Rome. It was led by leaders from Italy’s Cultural Ministry and the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection unit, the task force assigned to art and antiquities crimes. The event was also attended by US ambassador John Markell, as well as the head of the antiquities trafficking unit of the New York district attorney’s office, Matthew Bogdanos. “We know that safeguarding this history requires care and vigilance, and this is why we do what we do,” said Markell, who also reaffirmed the United States’s commitment to returning looted artifacts to their countries of origin. 


Gold Coins, Life-Sized Statues, and More

A recovered statue, photographed by Emanuele Antonio Minerva. Source: Italian Ministry of Culture.


The recovered Italian artifacts were looted from the regions of Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Calabria, and Sicily. A life-sized bronze figure, a cuirass, two bronze heads, Etruscan vases, gold coins, mosaics, and manuscripts are among the recovered antiquities, the oldest of which date back to the 9th century B.C.E. Additionally, the Carabinieri confirmed that 16th- and 19th-century oil paintings—which were stolen from museums, religious institutions, and private homes in Italy—had also been recovered.

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One of the most valuable artifacts displayed during Tuesday’s celebration was a 4th-century Naxos silver coin depicting Dionysius, the Greek god of wine. The coin was stolen from an illegal excavation site in Sicily sometime before 2013, after which it was smuggled to the United Kingdom. During a 2023 investigation into a well-known British coin dealer, the stolen coin was rediscovered in New York. It was being offered for sale for $500,000.


Recovery of Artifacts is “Another Significant Achievement” for Italy

Looted artifacts from the United States, photographed by Gregorio Borgia. Source: AP.


“The return to Italy of cultural assets of such importance, both for their numerical consistency and for their historical-artistic value, is another significant achievement,” said Gianmarco Mazzi, the undersecretary of the Italian Cultural Ministry, on Tuesday. “In addition to being works of art of inestimable value, they represent the high expression of our history, our culture, and our national identity.”


Italy’s Carabinieri recently introduced a new program to combat looting. The Stolen Works of Art Detection System (SWOADS) uses artificial intelligence to scan the web and social media for images of stolen items. D. Francesco Gargaro, the commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, claimed that SWOADS helped identify over 100,000 pieces of stolen art worldwide—collectively worth over $287 million—in 2023 alone.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.