Written by Claire L. Lanier, N-YHS Social Media and Content Manager
Our story starts with a crime: On November 11, 1983, a marble Peplophoros statue—along with 15 other items—was stolen from the historic Villa Torlonia, once home to famous Vatican banker Giovanni Torlonia, whose family owned the property for nearly 200 years. The statue, just a few feet tall, depicts a woman wearing a peplos, or body-length garment, common in ancient Greece. (What we might incorrectly label a toga.)
Even before the theft, the villa had a tumultuous history in its own right, as Benito Mussolini took up residence there from the 1920s through 1940s and following the war, the property was used by the Allied High Command. After it fell into disuse in 1947, the Municipality of Rome bought the villa and preserved it as a historic site and museum.
In the late 1990s the statue journeyed across the Atlantic, imported into the United States by a New York City gallery. A few years later in 2001, it sold for a whopping $81,000 to a private owner in New York, who later discovered the item had been stolen and voluntarily contacted the FBI to notify them of the theft and to relinquish the sculpture. (It should be noted that no charges were filed and the FBI has closed the case.)
Yesterday we had the honor of hosting a special repatriation ceremony in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library for the stolen statue to be returned to Generale di Brigata Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy’s Carabinieri, presented by FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McGarrity of the New York Field Office and Joon H. Kim, deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
This special presentation reminded all lovers of culture how significant these lost works of art are, even to those of us who must bid adieu as they are returned home. “We participate in a number of these cases of stolen artifacts that we return to their rightful owners,” says Kim. “We don’t get to keep these artifacts that we return, but in our minds, we imagine the beautiful museum that maybe we could have created.”
In real life, it seems Indiana Jones probably doesn’t carry a whip or wear a hat, but he may well wear a suit and work for the FBI—in the last 12 years, the FBI’s Art Crime Team has recovered more than 14,850 items worth collectively more than $165 million. We’re honored we could host this important ceremony right here in our Library to see such a beautiful and priceless work of art return to its lawful owner and home.