The Getty Museum in Los Angeles is returning a group of lifesize terracotta statues, dating back to between 350 and 300BC, and four other objects to Rome after an investigation concluded the relics had been stolen and smuggled out of Italy.
The three statues, known as Orpheus and the Sirens, have been removed from display at the museum and are being prepared for transport back to Rome in September.
The set of statues, which depict a seated man and two mythical sirens, was bought by John Paul Getty from a now defunct private bank in Switzerland in 1976.
They are believed to have originated from the Taranto area in the southern Italian region of Puglia, and since 2006 have been on a list of stolen artefacts that Italy has been seeking to reclaim possession of.
The museum said in a statement that it determined the items must be returned to Rome following an investigation carried out by Matthew Bogdanos, who heads the antiquities trafficking unit of Manhattan’s district attorney’s office.
The museum is also working with the Italian culture ministry to return four other relics, including three works bought in the 1970s and an 1881 oil painting by Camillo Miola called The Oracle, after research by scholars concluded the objects had also been illegally removed from Italy.
“We value our strong and fruitful relationship with the Italian ministry of culture and with our many archaeological, conservation, curatorial, and other scholarly colleagues throughout Italy, with whom we share a mission to advance the preservation of ancient cultural heritage,” said the Getty director, Timothy Potts.
Meanwhile, 260 Etruscan, Greek and Roman artefacts that were looted from Italy before ending up in US museums, private collections or auction houses are gradually being returned after the conclusion of an investigation late last year. The items are being displayed in the recently created Museum of Rescued Art, which is being hosted in a space among the ruins of the ancient Baths of Diocletian in Rome.
Many of the 260 relics were looted during clandestine digs by tombaroli, or tomb-raiders, dating back to the early 1980s, before being smuggled out of Italy. Among them was an ancient Roman sculpture that almost ended up in the possession of Kim Kardashian.
More than 3m stolen artefacts have been retrieved by Italy’s cultural heritage protection squad since the unit was established in 1969.