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US Returns Smuggled Art to Italy

U.S. Homeland Security officers returned some precious artwork to their rightful owners Thursday. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano presented seven cultural antiquities to the Italian ambassador and to the people of Italy.

It's a beauty--Zeus, seen as a swan, seducing a woman. A rare oil-on-copper painting from the 16th century artist Lelio Orsi. Auctioned off in Manhattan for $1.6 million. But Leda and the Swan was smuggled into the U.S. through false customs documents. Thursday, at Italy's embassy in Washington, Orsi's renaissance painting was returned to the Italian people.

"Criminals should have no illusions. Italy and the United States are fully together in this effort and are strongly committed to combating these crimes," said Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero.

Orsi's artwork wasn't the only treasure. Italy's national police force, the Carabinieri, tipped off U.S. Customs agents to six more antiquities, each priceless to Renato Miracco, the embassy's cultural attache.

One was a double-faced marble is from the 1st century. "This kind of sculpture you can put in your front door. When you have a lucky day, you put a young face. When you don't have a lucky day, you can see the other part of the sculpture," said Miracco.

Someone ripped pages from choirbooks dating back to 13th century churches and monasteries. Ceramic urns, looted from archeological sites, are some 2,500 years old.
"So many times, these kind of items you can find just broken, but they're really rare, just totally intact," Miracco.said

Officials link the sculpture and urns to a retired antiquities dealer accused of running an international smuggling organization. The pages were found on a rare book website based in the northwestern state of Oregon.

"On behalf of the United States government and personally, as the granddaughter of immigrants from a small town near Naples, it gives me great pride to return them to you," said Napolitano.

In 10 days, Italian Carabinieri will escort these pieces back to Italy. They will fly on their own cargo plane, solely for the art, as they return to the small villages and museums where they were once originally displayed.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous Associated Press TV, Radio, and Multimedia awards, as well as a Clarion for her TV coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.