Italian officials promise loans of art works, access for students to excavation sites

The University Art Museum and the Italian government resolved the ownership of 15 objects from the museum’s collection at a meeting in Rome last month, ending nearly three years of inquiries and negotiations.

Four works at the museum will be returned to Italy by the end of this year, four have been transferred to Italian ownership but will remain on loan at Princeton, and seven others will continue to be owned by Princeton and held in the museum’s permanent collection, according to the agreement, signed Oct. 30.

Italian culture ministry officials first contacted Princeton in 2004 with suspicions that some of the museum’s artifacts had been removed illegally from Italy. After researching the artifacts, the museum transferred title on the ones “for which there were sufficient concerns regarding the objects’ provenance,” director Susan Taylor said in a statement. Taylor has maintained that all of the objects were obtained in good faith, an assertion that culture ministry lawyer Maurizio Fiorilli affirmed in an interview with the Associated Press.

While the University Art Museum’s collection will absorb a few losses, Princeton students could see gains from the agreement, which promises new access to excavation sites managed by the Italian ministry and loans of additional works to the museum. Details of those arrangements are being worked out, according to Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96. The agreement also maintained the University’s scholarly access to the transferred works, Cliatt said.

The Italian culture ministry’s initial inquiry focused on three pieces from the art museum’s collection, according to the University. The museum responded with details about the works in question in 2005 and began talks with the Italian ministry the following year. All three of the originally disputed works — an Etruscan relief from the 6th century B.C., a Greek psykter, or wine-cooling vase, from about 500 B.C., and a 4th-century B.C. Italian vase known as a loutrophoros — are now property of Italy, though the latter two will remain on loan at Princeton for the next four years.

Since 2006, Italy has repatriated artifacts from several American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

This is not the first time that the Princeton museum has returned works to Italy. In 2002, the museum voluntarily sent an ancient Roman sculptural relief to the Italian government after discovering that it had been exported illegally. A half-century earlier, the museum returned an ancient marble goat head that had been stolen from storage during World War II. After receiving the artifact, the Italian consul general in New York brought it back to campus as a gift to the University.