Italy displays rich trove of stolen art recovered by police
By Naomi O'Leary
ROME (Reuters) - A treasure trove of stolen art, ancient ceramics and marble work hunted down by Italian police went on public display on Thursday in a sumptuous exhibition in the presidential palace in Rome.
The collection of artifacts, all retrieved in the past few years, includes oil paintings, gilt altarpieces, ancient vases and a series of ornately carved marble funerary urns considered to be one of the most important ever finds in Etruscan art.
The exhibition shines a light on the scale of illegal trade in art and ancient artifacts in Italy, which boasts the world's largest number of UNESCO world heritage sites but struggles to protect its vast patrimony from theft and mismanagement.
"The works on display, from illegal excavations or thefts from museums and churches, each has a specific story," said Louis Godart, an archaeologist and artistic adviser to Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano.
"Their recovery at the end of a long and difficult investigation is due to those who fight passionately the predators of the people's heritage."
The special police unit involved, the 'Carabinieri Art Squad', has recovered almost a million ancient artifacts and hundreds of thousands of artworks, including some by Renaissance artists Raphael and Perugino, since its formation 45 years ago.
The squad has displayed some of their previous trawls but the exhibition at the Quirinal Palace, Napolitano's official residence, is the largest to date and comprises more than 100 works spanning 2,000 years of Italian history.