Museum of rescued art: Stolen objects recovered by the police are displayed in Rome

About 100 stolen items recovered by the police are on display in a new museum in Italy before being returned to their rightful homes.

The priceless exhibits were tracked down by a specialized unit and located in the United States.

“The ‘Rescued Art Museum’ was born out of a specific need: to finally return to communities and the public these masterpieces that have often been stolen, during illegal excavations, and ended up abroad, and n ‘have never been seen in Italy,” says Massimo Osanna, director of Italy’s national museums.

“The seized objects are often then returned to storage, kept inside, and the idea is therefore to create a space dedicated to the evocative name, the ‘Survival Art Museum’.

What is currently on display at the Rescued Art Museum?

The opening exhibition includes artifacts selected from approximately 260 works stolen over the past 50 years from various parts of central and southern Italy and dating from the 8th to 4th centuries BC.

“These are very old pieces from pre-Roman Italy. Some are real masterpieces like this one behind me which is a jar, a ‘pithos’ with one of the oldest representations of the myth of ‘Odysseus and Polyphemus’, explains Osanna.

The large Etruscan ‘pithos’ (jar) is made of red pottery and shows the mythological scene in which Odysseus and his companions blinded the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, an important testimony to the influence of Greek civilization on Etruscan civilization.

The jar comes from Caere, a very ancient city in Etruria which corresponds to the current Cerveteri, a small town one hour from Rome.

The jar will return home in October, when these artifacts are replaced with other salvaged pieces.

How were the artifacts recovered?

The stolen goods were recovered during operations carried out by the Carabinieri unit for the protection of cultural heritage in cooperation with the American authorities.

The unit was established in 1969 and conducts investigations into illicit traffic in cultural property, counterfeits and clandestine excavations.

They have been found in museums, auction houses and private collectionsand returned to Italy on December 15, 2021.

“The Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage has some extraordinary finds in store… There are ongoing operations that will make it possible to recover (other works) in the months to come. And therefore in the months to come, we will decide what will be the (next) works (exhibited)”, says Osanna.

The special Carabinieri unit is cracking down on looters across Italy who seek out ancient items to resell, as they have done for decades in Pompeii.

In 2021, the Carabinieri Special Unit recovered 23,363 archaeological and paleontological items.

The “Illicitly Misappropriated Cultural Property Database” is the world’s largest database of stolen works of art, now with 1.3 million searchable files.

Thanks to this tool, the majority of recoveries are done by searching the online catalogs of international auction houses, antique galleries, art fairs, online pages and social networks.

The museum opens on June 16 in Rome and will be based within the National Roman Museum.

Mildred D. Field