Authorities representing the Manhattan district attorney’s office have confiscated twenty-seven ancient relics from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, charging that they were stolen. The seizures took place in the first five months of 2022, with officials executing three search warrants. The objects—collectively valued at more than $13 million, according to the New York Times, and variously representing ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt—are to be returned to their respective countries of origin this week, with Italy receiving twenty-one items and Egypt six. Among the apprehended treasures are eight said by the DA’s office to have been acquired from Italian dealer Gianfranco Becchina, who has several times in the past two decades been either accused for convicted of illegally selling antiquities to major arts institutions around the world; the remaining objects entered the Met’s collection far earlier.
Among the items seized are an Italian terra-cotta or drinking cup dating to 470 B.C. and worth roughly $1.2 million; a terra-cotta statuette of a Greek goddess from around 400 B.C. and valued at $400,000; and an Egyptian portrait of a woman on a panel, titled Lady with a Blue Mantle, said to be worth more than $1.2 million.
The confiscations represent an effort on the part of New York City law enforcement officials to speed up the typical repatriation process, which has historically taken over a year; they additionally point to recent attempts on the part of officials around the globe to prevent the illegal sale of antiquities. Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg contended that institutions holding large collections should be aware that some of the objects in their possession might have been illegally trafficked through organizations formed for that sole purpose. “The investigations conducted by my office have clearly exposed these networks and put into the public domain a wealth of information the art world can proactively use to return antiquities to where they rightfully belong,” said Bragg.
For its part, the Met in a statement noted that it was cooperating with authorities, additionally asserting, “The museum is a leader in the field in comprehensively reviewing individual matters, and it has returned many pieces based upon thorough review and research—oftentimes in partnership with law enforcement and outside experts.”