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Dallas art museum returns stolen mosaic to Turkish officials

Dec. 5, 2012 9:49 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 5, 2012 9:49 P.M.)
By: Marice Richter
DALLAS (Reuters) -- The Dallas Museum of Art has returned an ancient piece of artwork to Turkish officials after learning that the piece was likely looted from an archeological site.

Museum officials said they are cooperating with Italian authorities over the return of several antique artifacts that had been obtained from an Italian dealer under investigation for selling looted antiquities.

The museum "deplores the illegal trade in antiquities" and officials said they have made it a priority to identify and return looted treasures from other countries.

The artwork returned to Turkey is a ceramic mosaic of the mythic poet Orpheus playing a lyre as he sits on a rock surrounded by wild animals, which he tames with the soothing music. The museum bought the piece at public auction in 1999, officials said.

Museum director Maxwell Anderson discovered evidence that the piece might have been stolen from an archeological site and contacted Turkish officials.

Turkish officials provided scholarly opinions as well as photographs indicating that the ceramic was stolen from the site of ancient Edessa, now part of Turkey. The piece dates from 194 A.D. and measures approximately 64 inches by 60 inches. It was part of a floor in a Roman building, museum officials said.

In a ceremony on Monday in Dallas, museum officials returned the mosaic and announced the creation of a new international exchange for collaborations for loaning artwork and sharing cultural expertise. Turkey has signed on as the museum's first partner in the Dallas Museum Exchange program.

"As arts organizations in the United States and around the world address questions regarding cultural heritage, I have long believed there is a crucial opportunity to shift the terms of these cultural discussions from an adversarial to a collaborative approach," Anderson said in a statement.

O. Murat Suslu, Turkey's director general for Cultural Heritage and Museums, said the Turkish government was pleased to partner with the Dallas museum on this cultural exchange.

"We also want to express our appreciation to the museum for its ethical perspective during negotiations regarding the Orpheus Mosaic," Suslu said in a statement. "With actual photos of the looting in progress that we were able to present, it could not be clearer that this ancient work was stolen from its archaeological site."

Also, museum officials contacted Italian officials after discovering that three pieces in its collection had been obtained from Edoardo Almagia, an Italian dealer under suspicion for selling looted Italian artifacts. Italian officials presented photos showing that three more of the museum's pieces were obtained from other Italian dealers known to sell stolen antiquities, museum officials said.

These pieces include:

-- A large ceramic vessel, called a volute krater, used for mixing wine and water, dating from the 4th century B.C. acquired by the museum in 1998.

-- Two bronze shields decorate with the head of the man-bull deity Acheloos, dating from the 6th B.C. that were acquired in 1998.

-- A red-figure krater, a type of crate used for the burial of Greek nobles in southern Italy, dating from the 4th century B.C. The museum acquired it in 1996.

-- An Etruscan terra cotta head from an antefix, an architectural decoration for a tiled roof, dating from the 6th century B.C. and acquired by the museum in 1982.

-- A Greek krater decorated with a design of myrtle and grape vine leaves, symbols of the Greek god Dionysus. It was acquired by the museum in 2006.

Museum officials said they hope to negotiate a long-term loan of the Italian objects after the transfer of ownership to Italy is complete.
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