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The University of Virginia plans to return two ancient Greek sculptures to Italy nearly three decades after tomb raiders looted them from Sicily

University of Virginia to return looted Greek statues to Italy

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (AP) –

The acroliths of the Greek goddesses were created about 525 B.C. out of cloth, wood and marble. They have been on display at the university’s art museum since being donated to the institution in 2002.«We’re honored that we had them,» said Malcolm Bell III, an art history professor at the university. «We took good care of them. A lot of students saw them and learned from them. Now we’re happy to return them to Italy. The life-size statues were originally displayed inside a temple in Morgantina, an ancient Greek settlement near what is now the Italian city of Aidone.

They are thought to represent Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and grain, and her daughter Persephone, the queen of the underworld.The University of Virginia has not disclosed who donated the statues to its museum. However, the New York Times reported in September that New York diamond merchant and philanthropist Maurice Tempelsman previously owned the acroliths.Upon receiving the statues in 2002, the university negotiated a deal to keep them for five years, with the understanding that they would be returned to Italy afterward.

The Italian government endorsed the deal.To mark the return of the sculptures, the school will host a symposium Feb. 2 titled «The Goddesses Return,» the Daily Progress newspaper reported Friday.

Following the event _ which will feature discussions on museum ethics, the antiquities market and archaeological preservation _ members of the Italian police, or carabinieri, will escort the acroliths back to Italy.«We’re very pleased and grateful and happy to be getting these magnificent statues back,» said Silvia Limoncini, a cultural counselor of the Italian Embassy in Washington. «It’s an example of the excellent relationship between Italy and the United States.Since their discovery in 1978, the two acroliths have traveled the world via the black market of looted antiquities.

According to the New York Times, they were smuggled through Switzerland and surfaced in a London showroom in 1980. Tempelsman bought the acroliths from the London dealer for $1 million (¤0.68 million), the newspaper reported, adding that there is no indication that Tempelsman knew they had a potentially shady origin.In the late 1980s, the statues were on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

But after an Italian prosecutor notified the museum that they were possibly illegally excavated, the acroliths were returned to Tempelsman.Upon the acroliths’ return to Italy, they will be displayed at a museum in Aidone. In the coming years, the sculptures will be joined by other priceless works of repatriated art from American museums.The return of the acroliths is especially appropriate, Bell said, because the myths of Demeter and Persephone involved themes of traveling and returning. After Persephone is kidnapped and taken to the underworld, her mother searches for her across the Earth. Meanwhile, Persephone returns to Earth once a year, heralding spring and rebirth. 

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