A new museum recently opened in Rome to display stolen art recovered by the Italian police squad charged with safeguarding the country's artistic and cultural heritage.
On display at the Rescued Art Museum are around 100 valuable artifacts, returned from the United States after having been stolen by tomb raiders and making their way illegally into private collections, museums and auction houses.
In December 2021, the art squad of the Carabinieri — Italy's national police — announced the recovery of more than 200 priceless artifacts from between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC.
It credited the recovery to in-depth investigations, diplomacy, and collaboration with authorities in the U.S. It took more than two decades of negotiations and legal proceedings to obtain the return of the looted art.
Over the years, investigations overseen by the Rome Public Prosecutors' Office enabled the Carabinieri art squad to examine photos of antiquities collections held by museums, private collectors, auction houses and antiques galleries in the U.S.
This allowed the squad to identify hundreds of items that they knew had been illegally excavated in Italy and illicitly exported from the country. The Carabinieri were also able to thwart a black market trade in archeological artifacts and Italian art.
Carabinieri General Roberto Riccardi runs the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and spoke about the artifacts being showcased.
"We are talking about Etruscan findings or Apulian findings or goods from Campania or from the Roman civilization," he said. "We don't know piece by piece the specific locations, but we know the areas and they will go back to the places of origin."
Riccardi said that it was when they presented these finds that he suggested the idea of creating a museum of recovered art to Italy's Minister of Culture, who was pleased to find a dedicated space to display the art for limited time periods.
The first rotating exhibit, which will last four months, opened in the Planetarium Hall, in the Roman National Museum's Baths of Diocletian.
The Carabinieri art squad that the general commands was established in 1969.
"We have recovered so far more than 3 million cultural goods and we've also seized more than 1.3 million fake works of art, the other field that we work on," Riccardi said.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the smuggling from Italian territory of these artistic and archaeological objects represents "a significant loss for the cultural heritage of this country."
He said the "protection and promotion of these treasures is both an institutional duty and a moral commitment, a responsibility to take on for future generations."