Italy to Return Ancient Statue to Libya

The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 24, 2007; 4:35 PM

ROME -- Italy will return to Libya an ancient Roman statue taken from its former North African colony, a gesture Rome hopes will help its own campaign to retrieve allegedly looted antiquities from museums worldwide.

The 2nd century statue of the goddess Venus was found in 1913 by Italian troops near the ruins of the Greek and Roman settlement of Cyrene, on the Libyan coast, the Culture Ministry said Tuesday. It is now housed in Rome's National Roman Museum.

The headless marble figure of the goddess of love is a copy of a Greek statue that has never been found, said Silvana Rizzo, an archaeologist at the ministry.

"When we talk about Roman copies of Hellenistic statues we are talking about very important works, because most of the time they are the only traces of the original works that were later destroyed," she said.

Libyan authorities requested the statue in 1989, but a protracted judicial battle ensued with a group that considered the work part of Italy's cultural heritage. Last week, a court ruled in favor of returning the statue to Tripoli, the ministry said in a statement. No date has been set for the return.

The ruling sets "a useful precedent to promote the return, in favor of Italy, of antiquities that were looted by other states," the ministry said.

Italy is aggressively campaigning to recover antiquities it says were smuggled out of the country and sold to museums worldwide. It also has made some restitution to countries that had their own treasures looted by Italians.

In 2005, Rome returned to Ethiopia the 1,700-year-old Axum obelisk taken in 1937 on the orders of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts have agreed to return antiquities to Italy, but negotiations with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have been stalled for months.

Italy has placed former Getty curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht on trial in Rome for allegedly knowingly receiving dozens of archaeological treasures stolen from private collections or dug up illicitly. The two Americans deny wrongdoing.

© 2007 The Associated Press