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Italy celebrates returned vase

The Euphronios krater was returned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

January 19, 2008|From Times staff and wire reports

ROME -- With the return of a long-sought masterpiece of antiquity, Italy on Friday trumpeted one of the successes of its campaign to recover what it says are looted treasures from museums and collectors around the world.

The 2,500-year-old vase by Greek artist Euphronios, which Italy regained after signing a deal with the Metropolitan Museum in New York, was feted in Rome at an official presentation.

The Euphronios krater -- a large vase painted with scenes related to Homer's epic poems "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" -- is regarded as one of the finest examples of its kind. The vase was used as a bowl for mixing wine and water.

"It is universally considered the best work by the artist," Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said at the ceremony. Also attending was his predecessor, Rocco Buttiglione, who started the country's high-profile campaign to recover art.

Rutelli also announced that Shelby White, a member of the Met's board of trustees, had agreed to return 10 antiquities from her private collection, becoming the first private individual to return artifacts to Italy.

"It's a historic agreement," Rutelli said. "It's the first time that works from a private collection are returned." The agreement was first reported Friday by the New York Times.

Nine of the items already have been given to the Italian Consulate in New York and the 10th -- another vase by Euphronios -- was expected to be returned in two years, the ministry said.

White is also negotiating with Greek authorities over two objects in her collection believed to have been looted from Greece, according to someone familiar with the negotiations, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the talks.

One of the disputed objects is a marble funeral stele published in the exhibit "Glories of the Past." The person familiar with the talks said the lower half of the stele, which matches the upper half in White's collection, was found in an official excavation in Attica decades ago and is now in the nearby Vravrona Museum.

The Italian government has been negotiating with museums such as the Met and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts for the return of artifacts that it says were illegally excavated and smuggled abroad before ending up in prominent U.S. art institutions. The J. Paul Getty Trust in August agreed to hand over 40 pieces, including a statue of Aphrodite that Italian officials say was looted from Sicily. None of the museums has admitted any wrongdoing.

The Euphronios krater was sent back to Italy this week by the Met, which purchased it in 1972 for $1 million.

Like many other Greek vessels, the krater was exported to Italy, and it is believed to have been used by the Etruscan civilization to decorate a tomb near Rome. More than 2,000 years later, the vase was looted and smuggled out of the country, Italian authorities say.

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