A new exhibit of repatriated cultural property, including paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and vases, recently debuted at the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Scheduled to be on display for the next two months, the entire exhibition, comprising more than 250 items, is dedicated to pieces that were stolen or otherwise missing but have since been recovered and repatriated back to Italy.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enjoys an outstanding working relationship with the Italian Carabinieri, and in particular, with their Cultural Property Unit, who saw fit to publicly recognize ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for their remarkable efforts. Visitors to the exhibition will find this unique recognition on the walls of the display itself– the only mention of a foreign law enforcement agency in the exhibition. Their gratitude is also noted in an accompanying 247-page book produced by the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Carabinieri to celebrate the exhibition.
One of the largest artifacts featured in the new exhibit is the 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting the goddess Ariadne in a sleeping pose. Reportedly stolen in 1981, the piece was found for sale at a New York art gallery in 2014. Investigators with HSI’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigative Program made the discovery and worked closely with their Italian counterparts to authenticate the treasure and see that it was returned to its rightful owners in 2015.
The specialized unit includes trained investigators and attachés in more than 40 countries around the world. Customs laws allow ICE to seize national treasures when they have been reported lost or stolen. ICE works with experts to authenticate the items, determine their true ownership and return them to their countries of origin. Since 2007, ICE has returned more than 7,800 artifacts to more than 30 countries.