Italy asks for the return of the Doryphoros of Stabiae from the Museum of Minneapolis

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Stolen in the 1970s during clandestine excavations, sold twice by traffickers in antiquities for 3 billion lire and still on display in a museum in the United States. As of yesterday, the Torre Annunziata public prosecutor’s office asked the American authorities to issue a formal letter of request in order to return the Doryphoros of Stabia, a precious Roman marble copy of the Greek bronze original by Polykleitos from the city buried by the eruption of 79 AD together with Pompeii and Herculaneum, to Italian soil.

Italy asks for the return of the Doryphoros of Stabiae from the Museum of Minneapolis
The Doryphoros (after Polykleitos), 27 BCE – AD 68
in the Minneapolis Institute of Art [Credit: MIA]

The priceless work has been on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) in Minnesota for more than 30 years. “During the negotiations, it was described as a ‘hot find’ by the top management of the American museum and the traffickers of artefacts based in Switzerland.

Investigations by the Carabinieri of the Naples Cultural Heritage Protection Unit and the Torre Annunziata Group’s investigative unit, coordinated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office headed by Nunzio Fragliasso, have made it possible to reconstruct all the movements of the important artefact stolen from Castellammare between the end of 1975 and the beginning of 1976.

“It is a work of exceptional historical and artistic value,” writes Fragliasso, the public prosecutor, in a lengthy statement announcing the “request for international judicial assistance for the execution of the confiscation decree”, a decree issued by the magistrate of the court in Oplonia.

At the start of the 1980s, the Carabinieri managed to find the stolen marble statue for the first time. Investigations made it possible to reconstruct how it had been recovered in Castellammare in four pieces, sold by looters for about 100 million lire to Elie Borowski, an antiques dealer from Basle considered to be the most important international dealer in works of art, restored and then sold twice to as many foreign museums.

Borowski himself, in fact, had sold it to a German museum as a statue recovered from the waters of the Gulf of Naples. From Castellammare to Switzerland, then on to the United States and finally to Germany. Until the mid-1980s, the Doryphoros was on display at the Glyptothek of the Antikenenmuseum in Munich under the name “Doryphoros aus Stabia”, before being identified by investigators.

The Naples Public Prosecutor’s Office succeeded in obtaining its seizure in 1984, but a year later the statue was released by the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Bavarian Court of Appeal and disappeared again. Thanks to his network of contacts, Borowski again sold the Doriforo for 2.5 million dollars (about 3 billion lire at the time) to the MIA in Minneapolis, where it has been since 1985.

The new investigations, coordinated by the Torre Annunziata Public Prosecutor’s Office and conducted by the Carabinieri, have made it possible to identify with certainty the MIA Doryphoros as the statue stolen in 1976 from Castellammare, partly thanks to expert reports by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

The director Gabriel Zuchtriegel himself obtained confirmation, through an email exchange with the Minnesota museum, that it is indeed the original Doryphoros of Stabia with a damaged arm, the finger of the right hand and the right foot missing. “Let’s bring the statue back home and host it in the premises of our Archaeological Museum Libero D’Orsi” is the proposal of Stabia’s mayor Gaetano Cimmino.

Source: Positano News [February 22, 2022]

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