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November 4, 2016Cleveland, OH, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

14th century Italian manuscript transferred to ICE following probe

CLEVELAND – A 14th-century manuscript leaf from an Antiphonary was transferred Friday to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) custody, paving the way for its delivery to Italy. The transfer follows a two-year probe by HSI. 

“Cultural artifacts and antiquities have a monetary value in the markets where they are bought and sold. But to the item’s true owners, the value cannot be measured monetarily,” said Steve Francis, acting special agent in charge for HSI Detroit. “We’re pleased to announce with our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and with the Museum that today’s transfer brings us one step closer to reuniting this treasure with its rightful owner, the Italian people."

The Master of Dominican Effigies, an important illuminator, created an illuminated manuscript known as Codex D sometime between 1335 and 1345. Codex D, essentially a type of hymnal, is parchment with leather binding and contained seven illuminated pages. The illuminated page with the initial L depicts Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia). A portion of the page was removed from the Antiphonary and is known as a leaf. The leaf is ink, tempera and gold on parchment. It measures 44.3 cm high and 35.2 cm wide.

The Antiphonary was formerly in the Church of Saints Ippolito and Biagio of Castelfiorentino and is now preserved in the Museum of Santa Verdiana, Castelfiorentino, Italy.

The leaf was purchased, in good faith, by the Museum in 1952, at which time it was attributed to a different artist. It has not been on display for more than 10 years.

The Museum was contacted by HSI after a second leaf appeared on the Swiss market. That leaf was recently turned over to the Italian government. Working collaboratively with HSI to research the history of the leaf and after evaluating the information provided by the Italian government, the Museum agreed the leaf should be transferred to Italy to be reunited with the Antiphonary.

“Once we were able to substantiate the information provided, we decided that the best place for the leaf was back with the Antiphonary. We feel the leaf has greater significance if it is reunited with the other illuminations in the manuscript. Along with the recovery of a second leaf, the Antiphonary will now be complete” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “We appreciate Homeland Security Investigations bringing this to our attention and working with us to effectuate the right result for the work.”

Rendon noted that the cooperation between her office, HSI and the Museum has resulted in the transfer.

“This story of a beautiful illuminated page missing from the Antiphonary for many years will have a happy ending thanks to the work of the Italian government, ICE’s presence in Rome, ICE here in Cleveland, our office and the Museum,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Carole Rendon said.

The Antiphonary is a partially illuminated liturgical manuscript intended for use by a choir. A delivery date to the Italian government is being finalized.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, specializing in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s International Operations, through its 62 attaché offices in 46 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.

HSI's specially trained investigators assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also train investigators from other nations and agencies to investigate crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace. Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines and possible restitution to purchasers of the items.

Since 2007, more than 8,000 artifacts have been returned to 30 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations

Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.