Italy bans loans to Minneapolis Institute of Art because of long-running dispute over ancient statue


ROME (AP) — Italy’s Culture Ministry banned art loans to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, following a long-running dispute with the U.S. museum over an ancient marble statue believed to have been looted from Italy almost a half-century ago.

The legal dispute began in March 2022, when an Italian court ruled that the museum, known as Mia, was irregularly in possession of the Stabiae Doriforo, a Roman-era copy of The Doryphoros of Polykleitos, an ancient Greek sculpture.

The ancient statue was believed to have been looted from Italy in the 1970s, according to prosecutors.

A spokesman for Italy’s Culture Ministry confirmed the ban on Wednesday, adding that Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano was “firmly convinced” of that decision. Last month, Sangiuliano had announced that the Italian government was working to bring the Doryphoros back to Italy from the United States.

Rome claims that the sculpture was looted in the ’70s from an archaeological site at Stabiae, an ancient city close to Pompeii, which was also covered by lava and ashes when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79.

In February 2022, Italian prosecutors issued an international warrant for the artwork to be impounded and returned.

But at a news conference held at Pompeii in February — two years after the request was made — Nunzio Fragliasso, chief prosecutor at the Torre Annunziata court, said they were “still awaiting a response.”

The U.S. museum, which bought the Doryphoros in 1986 for $2.5 million, said it purchased the sculpture from art dealer Elie Borowski, only after Italy’s claim was denied by the German government and the artwork was imported into the United States.

“Since that time, the work has been publicly displayed and extensively published,” the museum said in a statement. “While it takes issue with recent press reports regarding the Doryphoros, Mia believes that the media is not an appropriate forum to address unproven allegations.”

The museum also said it has always acted “responsibly and proactively” with respect to claims related to its collection.

However, it added, ”where proof has not been provided, as well as where Mia has evidence reasonably demonstrating that a claim is not supported, Mia has declined to transfer the work.”

The U.S. museum also noted that Italy’s embargo “is contrary to decades of exchanges between museums.”

“At this time, notwithstanding the (Italian) Ministry’s action, Mia is honoring its outgoing loan commitments to ensure its Italian colleagues do not suffer because of the Ministry’s embargo decision,” the museum said.

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