|Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara|
Guest Blogger: Prince Giuseppe Grifeo di Partanna, Rome
Another work of ancient Italian art, one of 15 statues stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 is finally returning home to Italy from the United States.
Known as the Torlonia Peplophoros, this first-century BC sculpture depicts the body of a young goddess wearing a body-length garment called a “peplos”. According to the FBI, it had been sold to a private owner in Manhattan in 2001 for approximately $81,000 after first being smuggled into the United States sometime during the late 1990s.
In a redelivery ceremony on 7 December 2016, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's military art crime police, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, accepted the statue formally on behalf of the country of Italy from United States, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McGarrity of the New York Field Office and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim. The ceremony took place at the Kingstone Library at the prestigious "New York Historical Society" in Central Park West.
The statue was stolen from Villa Torlonia on the evening of 11 November 1983, when a group of thieves broke into the villa's grounds along the via Nomentana and made off with a haul of fifteen statues plus a variety of other objects. When the city of Rome discovered the theft, its citizens were left both shocked and outraged. Throughout the passing years, they have never waivered on their resolution to find the missing objects.
The historic Villa Torlonia and its grounds were purchased by the City of Rome in 1978 and had been left in a state of considerable neglect for at least two decades before a much-needed plan of refurbishment, completed in March 2006, could be agreed upon and funds allocated for the works to be undertaken. The theft of the objects at the villa occurred during the period of historic site's decay.
From the 17th century until the middle of the 18th century the site of the villa had been a part of the landed patrimony of the Italian noble family Pamphilj who used the semi-rural terrain for agricultural purposes. The land was then purchased by another family of nobility, the Colonna, in 1760 who continued to use the site for the same purpose.
In 1797 the land was bought by Franco-Italian banker to the Vatican, Prince Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia. In 1806, Torlonia contracted neo-Classic architect Giuseppe Valadier to transform two buildings, the edificio padronale and the casino Abbati into a proper palace. As part of the redevelopment project, he commissioned new stables, outbuildings and formal gardens which he embellished with classical-era statues.
Much later, in 1919, a Jewish catacomb, dating to the third and fourth century CE, was discovered while reinforcing the foundation of the “scuderie nuove”, or new stables, located on the southwest corner of the Villa Torlonia estate.
|Wartime gardening for food at the Villa Torlonia|
Image Credit: MiBACT
In 1925 the son of Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia allocated his family's home as the official residence of Benito Mussolini, who was made to pay 1 lire per year in symbolic rent. Mussolini and Prince Alessandro Torlonia then started construction, never completed, of a fortified, airtight bunker underneath the palace residence designed to resist both aerial bombardment and chemical welfare. Part of the villa's considerable neglect, is due in no small part to the city's attempt, at least apathetically, to ignore the villa's distasteful Fascist legacy.
But going back to 1983, when the theft occurred. This is not the first repatriation of an object traced to the theft 33 years ago.
|Image Credit: Richard Drew / AP|
A first century CE marble head, severed from the body of an ancient statue of Dionysus, was consigned for auction at Christie's in New York for USD $25,000 in September 2002. Likely removed because it was lighter to carry and easier to sell, the statue was being stored in the former old stables at Villa Torlonia.
To rub salt in an already overlooked wound, the body that was once attached to this head, also went missing a few weeks after the November 1983 theft. Both were repatriated to Italy in 2006.
|Image Credit: Wikipedia|
As result of these two thefts and in part due to several earlier predations, the city's cultural heritage authorities eventually replaced all of the villa's precious statues on the villa's external grounds, with concrete and plaster replicas.
Yesterday's restitution was announced officially in Manhattan and via the web by Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,
The case was handled by the FBI's Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit and followed up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson.