A ceremony was held at the Embassy of Italy on 12 February 2019 during which Christie’s auction house returned eight antique artworks and a page of illuminated codex to Italy. The event was attended by Alberto Bonisoli, the minister for cultural activities and heritage; Raffaele Trombetta, the Italian ambassador to the UK; Fabrizio Parrulli, the Carabinieri commander responsible for the protection of cultural heritage; Guillaume Cerutti, the CEO of Christie’s; and Stephen Brooks, the deputy CEO of Christie’s.
The restitution of the artworks was preceded by in-depth preparatory work by the embassy and was made possible by the relationship of trust and collaboration that the embassy has developed over the years with Christie’s. It was the first ever instance of such close collaboration between the Italian state and a private auction house. The pieces returned included an Greek oenochoe in vitreous paste; an Etruscan terracotta antefix from the 6th or 5th century BC; a Faliscan stamnos with red figures from the 4th century BC; five plates in 4th-century BC Egnatian style; an Apulonian hydra with red figures from 350-330 BC; a Roman capital from the 2nd century AD, uncovered during illegal excavations; a fragment of marble from a Roman sarcophagus from the catacombs of San Callixtus; a Roman marble relief with Satyr and Maenad stolen from the Villa Borghese gardens in 1985; and the page of illuminated codex.
This restitution is milestone in the protection of Italian cultural heritage and is testament to the effectiveness of the collaboration between Italy and major bodies in the art world, such as Christie’s, in the fight against the illegal trafficking that compromises our cultural heritage. It was highlighted that a stricter ethical code is needed in the art market, with the provenance of every artefact being verified before it is sold, and that the legal framework should be updated to ensure that suitable penalties are imposed on traffickers.