Rome has a new museum. Housed within the National Roman Museum in the Baths of Diocletian, the Museum of Rescued Art will display ancient artifacts from across Italy that were stolen, dispersed, sold or illegally exported, before being returned to their original locations.
In the museum’s first exhibit, which opened June 15, approximately 100 Etruscan, Greek and Roman artifacts have been put on display. Among them, a marble bust of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, which was stolen from an Italian museum in 1984, and found four decades later in New York just before going up for auction at Christie’s. Other items currently on display include ceramics from pre-Roman cultures from central and southern Italy as well as Etruscan figurines and painted jars dating back to the eighth to fourth centuries B.C.E. coming from Cerveteri in Lazio, one of the most important Etruscan cities.
The artifacts currently on display will be shown through October 15. The museum plans to rotate exhibitions every few months.
The museum is also a celebration of Italy’s success in recovering art, a formidable task led by the “art squad”, that is the Carabinieri Unit for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, founded in 1969. According to the Associated Press, at the museum’s opening on June 15, Teo Luzi, the Carabinieri Commanding General, said he hopes Italy will one day recover the Statue of a Victorious Youth, a Greek bronze sculpture of a naked youth created around 300 to 100 B.C.E. Found by fishermen in the Adriatic Sea in the 1960s, it was purchased in 1977 by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it is still on display despite a 2018 court ruling that the Getty must return the statue. (The Getty maintains that the statue was found in international waters.)
“Stolen artworks and archaeological artifacts dispersed, sold, or illegally exported constitute a significant loss to a country’s cultural heritage and the expression of its historical memory and collective values, not to mention the identity of its people,” said Dario Franceschini, Italy’s Culture Minister, in a statement. “It is no coincidence that during international conflicts, aggressors frequently, intentionally, and deliberately damage cultural heritage, striking at the very roots of the enemy country’s identity.”
The Museum of Rescued Art is housed in the Octagonal Hall at the Baths of Diocletian and is open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am-6pm.