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N.Y. museum will return artifacts to Italy

Deal to correct 'errors' of the past

ROME -- New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will return 21 looted artifacts to Italy in exchange for loans of other treasures in a deal signed yesterday that the Italians called a model for other museums with stolen goods in their collections.

Met chief Philippe de Montebello said the agreement with officials from the Italian Culture Ministry ''corrects a number of improprieties and errors committed in the past" and would encourage museums to put in place new legal and ethical measures.

The deal calls for the Met to return the Euphronios Krater, a 6th-century B.C. painted vase that is one of the Met's prized antiquities and widely regarded as one of the finest examples of its kind.

The museum bought the vase from an American art dealer for $1 million in 1972. Italy says it was stolen from a site near Rome. The Met agreed in yesterday's deal to give it back to Italy by Jan. 15, 2008.

The Met also will return 16 pieces of Hellenistic silver known as the Morgantina collection by Jan. 15, 2010. Four Greek earthenware treasures dating from 320 B.C. to 520 B.C. will be returned to Italy as soon as possible.

In exchange, Italy will loan the Met objects of ''equal beauty and historical and cultural significance," and the two sides will cooperate on future excavations, research, and restoration work.

Italy waived any right to pursue legal action against the museum or its staff over the disputed items.

''Italy has won, but the Metropolitan has not lost," Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione said after the signing ceremony.

The agreement ends a decades-long dispute that was pushed into the spotlight by a fresh Italian campaign to recover artifacts it says were illegally taken by tomb raiders and sold to museums around the world.

A 1939 Italian law states that any ancient artifact found in a dig belongs to the state.

As part of the Italian crackdown, a former curator from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is on trial in Rome, accused of knowingly purchasing stolen artifacts from Italy for the museum. The former curator, Marion True, has denied wrongdoing.

The Italians have asked the Getty to return 42 items Italy believes were stolen, including a statue of Aphrodite that the museum bought for $18 million in 1988. Buttiglione said he hoped yesterday's agreement could ''be a model for further agreements" with other cultural institutions.

Antiquities experts and archeologists praised the deal but said it will have no broader significance unless the Met and other museums are forced to change their policies to prevent the acquisition of looted treasures.

Archeologists want museums to have clear-cut guidelines specifying that they will not buy recently unearthed antiquities that have no clear history of legitimate ownership.

Yesterday's deal does not require the Met to alter its acquisitions policies. De Montebello said that, even without new policies, museums already are looking more closely into the provenance of new acquisitions because they cannot afford not to do so.

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