The Louvre could return looted objects to Italy

After a first unsuccessful request in 2018, Italy renewed its request to the new president and director of the Louvre, Laurence des Cars, demanding the return of seven ancient objects of dubious origin, the Parisian museum announced on Friday 14 July.

Acquired between 1982 and 1998 by the Louvre, the works are linked to Italian antiquities dealers, Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, convicted of illicit trafficking in Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.

The link between these objects and the art dealers was established from photographic archives seized during searches. In 1995, Polaroids, documents and objects were seized from Giacomo Medici’s warehouse by the Italian police and were subsequently used as exhibits, making it possible to trace the route of the works which come from excavations and illegal looting of graves. In 2001, the photographic archives of gallery owner Giovanni Franco Becchina were also confiscated by the Swiss authorities and handed over to the Carabinieri. These documents had led to the conviction of the two merchants in 2004.

By consulting these archives, a couple of archaeologists retired from the Italian Ministry of Culture identified four antique pieces acquired by the Louvre. According The worldthese are antique vases from the 4th century BC, attributed to the Painter of Ixion [voir ill.]a krater dating from the 5th century BC by the Painter of Antimenes, as well as a pair of nereids from the 4th century BC, originating from Puglia (southern region of Italy) .

For his part, the archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis spotted a head of Heracles from the 5th century BC, from the ancient Etruscan city of Cerveteri, as well as a black amphora from the 5th century BC. ., attributed to the Berlin Painter [voir ill.]. Giacomo Medici’s Polaroids show the amphora when it was unearthed and then restored, proof that it too comes from the warehouse seized in 1995.

In February 2023, Gennaro Sangiuliano, the Italian Minister of Culture, met with Laurence des Cars to discuss a return of the disputed works. “I consider works of dubious provenance to be a stain on the Louvre collections. We have to examine [ces cas] with rigor and lucidity”, said the director of the Louvre to Le Monde. The French museum must now finalize its own checks and will send a recommendation to the Ministry of Culture in the fall.

Laurence des Cars also announced the creation of two positions dedicated to verifying the provenance of the Louvre collection. She explains that “the study of provenances is now an acute question, scientifically, symbolically and politically”.

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