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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
07/06/2011

Speed Art Museum transfers religious artwork to ICE

Settlement agreement with Kentucky's Speed Art Museum will return triptych to Italy

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a ceremony on Tuesday, the local Speed Art Museum transferred a three-panel wooden triptych to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), following last month's settlement agreement.

"This triptych, which possibly dates from the 14th century, has cultural significance," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New York. "ICE HSI commends the museum for its cooperation, which allows us to ensure that this cultural artifact is returned to its rightful owner."

"Works of art are in many ways like people in that they often have complicated histories," said Speed Director and CEO Charles L. Venable. "When the Speed purchased this altarpiece nearly 40 years ago, we did not know it had been stolen from a private collection. Since being notified of this, we have worked closely with all parties to research the case and to restore the painting to its owners in Italy."

The triptych, which is a series of three paintings attached together by hinges that was often used as an altar-piece for private devotion, was stolen from the Villa La Giraffa in Goito, Italy, on Oct. 2, 1971. According to Italian police reports, burglars entered the villa in the early morning hours by cutting through metal bars and a glass window on the first floor of the residence. Fourteen pieces of art were stolen, including original oil paintings by the Italian realist painters Giovanni Fattori and Silvestro Lega, and three still-life paintings by artists from the Venetian School.

Acting on information from officials at the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage in Rome, ICE HSI agents tracked the triptych to the Speed Art Museum's permanent collection. Art consultants positively identified the artwork based on unique markings in old photographs. The Speed Art Museum, which purchased the piece in 1973 from an art gallery in New York, promptly cooperated with law enforcement after federal agents brought the theft to its attention.

The triptych's central panel depicts the Virgin Mary with Child, surrounded with two patron saints, John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria. The right panel depicts the crucifixion of Jesus and the annunciation of the Virgin Mary. The left panel depicts Saints Anthony Abate and Vescovo.

ICE is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government. Created in 2003 through a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), ICE's primary mission is to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration.

The Speed Art Museum is Kentucky's largest art museum with a collection that spans 6,000 years of human creativity. An independent museum located on the campus of the University of Louisville, the Speed plays an important role in the cultural and educational life of the region. The Museum is situated at a crossroads between the city and the University of Louisville, adjacent to the busiest pedestrian thoroughfare on the University's campus. The Museum recently unveiled plans for its upcoming renovation and expansion. For more information visit www.speedmuseum.org.

For more information, visit www.ice.gov.