Italy bans loans to Minneapolis Institute of Art until it returns Doriforo

The Ministry of Culture goes bad with the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the museum that preserves the Doriforo di Stabiae, a work stolen from Italy in 1975-1976: stop loans and collaborations from Italian state museums until the work is returned.

No more artwork loans will leaveItaly for the Minneapolis Institute of Art until the American museum returns to our country the Stabiae Doriforo, a valuable Roman copy of the Doriforo of Polyclitus (the date fluctuates between the first century BC.B.C. and the first century A.D.), stolen in Italy in the 1970s, as was ruled by the Court of Torre Annunziata , which in March 2022, at the request of the Campania city’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, issued a confiscation decree for the work, stolen from an illegal excavation. The work came from some clandestine excavations conducted in Castellammare di Stabia between 1975 and 1976: it later came into the possession of Swiss merchant Elie Borowski, who allegedly bought the work for 100 million lire (when the Carabinieri were already hunting the work). Then, on April 15, 1986, the Minneapolis museum announced the purchase of the sculpture for $2.5 million, the highest price paid for a work in the Minnesota museum’s collection-an acquisition that, the institute’s chief curator Michael Conforti said at the time, “increased the value of the museum’s collection of ancient art by 10 times.”

So far, all appeals to return the sculpture have fallen on deaf ears. The latest only a few days ago, by Chief Prosecutor Nunzio Fragliasso , who at a press conference, also broadcast on YouTube, called for this affair to be talked about so that “it will not be covered by silence as it has been for 40 years.” If the institutions of a country, Fragliasso added, “realize that an exceptional work of art belongs to another state, they should take a diligent part so that it is returned. There is no time to close the rogatory letters, we urge, and we are activating other institutional channels. The Doriforo must be talked about for public opinion to be heard. For the Prosecutor’s Office it is a priority that it returns to Italy, as well as for the Ministry of Culture.”

Roman sculptor, Doriphorus of Stabiae (27 BC. - 68 AD; Pentelic marble, 198.12 x 48.26 x 48.26 cm; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Art)
Roman sculptor, Doriphorus of Stabiae (27 BC.
68 AD; Pentelic marble, 198.12 x 48.26 x 48.26 cm; Minneapolis, Minneapolis Institute of Art)

The last reminder sent to the museum by the Torre Annunziata prosecutor’s office was last December 15, but no response came from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. And now also comes the decision that could turn the case around: in fact, the general director of Italian museums, Massimo Osanna, has decided that the Minneapolis Institute of Art will no longer receive loans or obtain collaborations from Italian museums until the Doriforo returns to Italy.

So we move on to the bad, since the good did not help: Italy, in exchange for the Doriforo, had offered long-term loans of artifacts from Pompeii. An undue and very generous offer from Italy. And then, just over a year ago, between October 15, 2022, and January 8, 2023, the Minneapolis Institute of Art could also organize an exhibition of important works from the Uffizi following a generous loan of 45 pieces, including important masterpieces (such as Sandro Botticelli’s Pallas and the Centaur ), and the collaboration of a recognized scholar such as Cecilia Frosinini of theOpificio delle Pietre Dure who had curated the exhibition together with Rachel McGarry, head of European art at the American museum. The exhibition had been criticized precisely because the Minneapolis Institute of Art had been deaf to any Italian request: it was hoped, however, that after such an important review, tempers across the Atlantic would soften. This was not the case, and so from now on we move on to the ban on collaborations between Italian state museums and the U.S. institute, which is already in operation: in fact, the U.S. museum had asked the Capodimonte Museum and Real Bosco last October for the loan of the tapestries of the Battle of Pavia for an exhibition. And the loan, it turns out, was denied.

As early as November 2023, Osanna had written a letter to Katherine Luber, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, announcing that Italy would no longer compromise: “The ministry,” the director wrote, “cannot ignore a seizure order by an Italian court and maintain customary business relations with a museum that ignores such an order and the evidence provided on the illicit provenance of the statue. To put it very simply, we cannot isolate the Doriforo issue from the rest of our multi-year cooperation. This policy is not aimed specifically at the Mia, but concerns all museums that hold cultural property recognized by the courts as part of Italy’s unavailable heritage. Our government is not willing to compromise on this point.”

Italy bans loans to Minneapolis Institute of Art until it returns Doriforo
Italy bans loans to Minneapolis Institute of Art until it returns Doriforo

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