The Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio says it will return an ancient water jug to Italy that investigators believe was probably illegally dug up from the country years ago. The jug is Greek, but it was illegally found in excavations in Italy, so it would not be decorating a Greek museum but an Italian. Nevertheless, the news is great because the artifact surely did not belong to Ohio.
The 2,500-year-old water vessel, or kalpis, has been on display at the Ohio museum since 1982, when it was purchased from an antiquities dealer out of Switzerland. It will be displayed in the museum’s Libbey Court until it leaves for Rome, probably in late summer.
“The right thing to do is to return this object,” museum Director Brian Kennedy told The Blade newspaper. “We knew we’d likely lose this. We’ll miss it.”
Italy has pressed an aggressive campaign to win back ancient Roman, Greek and Etruscan vases, bowls, statues and other artifacts prosecutors contend were looted from the country. The campaign was set in motion after a police raid on a Swiss warehouse of an Italian art dealer found a trove of artifacts and photos of antiquities, many of them still covered with dirt from being hastily excavated by antiquities hunters in Italy.
Black painting on the orange clay vessel at the Toledo museum depicts the Greek tale of Dionysos, the god of wine and drama. The late museum curator Kurt Luckner had recommended Toledo buy the kalpis for $90,000, and its acquisition was a coup for Toledo because the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had also wanted it at the same time.
Authorities believe the 50-centimeter artifact was probably illegally excavated in Italy, smuggled to Switzerland and given a forged record of ownership. To clear the way for its return to Italy, federal prosecutors filed a complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court asking a judge to order the jug as forfeited.