Steven Litt, the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s art critic, is the go-to person for the full details on yesterday’s agreement by the Cleveland Museum to relinquish 14 objects to Italy, in exchange for collegial cooperation on various projects, as well as “13 antiquities similar to those being returned to Italy, for a renewable 25-year period.”
Did he say “25 years”? That would appear to be a sea change in Italian policy—one that American museums have long desired. As I wrote in my LA Times piece, Make Art Loans, Not War, Italy’s previous policy had been to make loans for a period of only four years.
As Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, previously told me:
Four years is not quite long enough to work really well….Ultimately I think it would be nice if you could have a category where things could be on almost permanent loan, but whenever the Italians wanted to get them back, they could. You could then build educational programs around them. You could build exhibitions around them.
Now Cleveland can.
Missing from the Cleveland Museum’s press release announcing the accord was an explanation of why, after 18 months of discussion, the museum concluded that evidence indeed suggested the objects should be relinquished.
Litt gives us the back story:
Italy originally presented the Cleveland museum with a list of 42 objects about which Italian authorities had questions….The list ultimately was whittled to 14, including many from South Italy, formerly a hotbed of looting.
[Maurizio] Fiorilli [the Italian state lawyer] said that evidence connecting the Cleveland artworks to illegal activity included photographs, letters and other documents obtained in a 1995 raid on a Swiss warehouse.
That evidence and information from subsequent investigations linked the artworks to convicted antiquities smuggler Giacomo de Medici and others in his circle, Fiorilli said.
They include the American art dealer Robert Hecht, the English dealer Robin Symes, and Fritz Burki a Swiss art restorer close to Medici, who restored the famous Euphronios Krater, a large ceramic vessel returned to Italy recently by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Along with getting Italy off his back, Cleveland’s director, Timothy Rub, got a pat on the back. Fiorilli told Litt:
The director is an exquisite person. This was a negotiation among gentlemen. They always collaborated and exhibited great openness. Therefore, I am content.
For now, at least. Litt reports that two more Cleveland objects are still in play: a small ancient bronze chariot ornament in the form of a winged victory, and the famous Apollo Sauroktonos (Lizard Slayer).