Greece in new deal to bring back 161 ancient treasures from the United States
Greece has reached a deal for the eventual return of an American billionaire’s private collection of 161 ancient Greek artifacts dating back more than 4,500 years.
Greek government spokesman Yannis Oikonomou said last Tuesday that the Greek parliament would vote on a bill to ratify the deal, which involves the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (MET), a Greek museum in leading and cultural institute based in Delaware.
Oikonomou said the deal, which avoids any legal disputes or payments by the Greek government, could serve as a model for further restitution. It is expected to be tabled in Parliament early next week.
“It creates a procedure and a means that encourages other collectors of Greek antiquities to take similar steps…that does not have the inconvenience of a legal process,” he said.
The main opposition socialist party, SYRIZA, is against the deal, saying it legitimizes the theft of Greece’s cultural heritage. SYRIZA called for the bill to be withdrawn, saying it “sets the ground for the legalization of antiquities theft and illegal antiquities exports.”
Government spokesman Mr Oikonomou said the deal recognized Greece’s ownership of artifacts from the Bronze Age Cycladic civilization – known for its abstract but enigmatic marble figurines – donated by a New York collector at the Delaware Institute.
The works will first be exhibited later this year at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens and then at the Metropolitan Museum, he said.
Antiquities of undetermined provenance are usually looted and stripped of any information about their function and cultural significance that a legitimate excavation would have provided. Mr Oikonomou did not provide any details on how the works were excavated and exported from Greece and described them as “unknown” artefacts.
The MET declined to comment.
Mr Oikonomou did not name the American collector involved. But two people familiar with the deal said The Associated Press that the artifacts were from Leonard’s collection. N. Stern, an 84-year-old pet supplies and real estate businessman and philanthropist. They spoke on condition of anonymity pending official announcements.
“Many of the (coins) are extremely rare, if not unique, examples of the art and craftsmanship of the Cycladic civilization of the 3rd millennium BCE and offer new data to scientific knowledge of the period,” said M. Oikonomou in a statement after a Cabinet meeting discussed the matter on Tuesday.
A Greek official said the 161 antiquities would gradually be returned to Greece for permanent display, but no specific timeline was available.
The Cycladic civilization flourished in the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea approximately between 3800 and 2000 BC. She is best known for the iconic white marble figurines of nude female forms that inspired artists such as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi. Their enormous popularity among private collectors and museums around the world sparked an orgy of illegal excavations across the Cyclades in the 20th century. Largely because of this, their precise original function remains unclear.
For decades, Greek authorities have struggled to recover antiquities illegally mined and exported from the country, which can be sold for millions of dollars.
Athens has long and unsuccessfully lobbied to recover large sections of the 5th century BCE sculptures that originally decorated the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis and are now in the British Museum in London.