Collector Returns Antiquities Italy Says Were Looted

After eighteen months of negotiations, New York City philanthropist and art collector Shelby White has agreed to return ten classical antiquities from her private collection that Italy says were looted, the New York Times reports.

According to Italian culture minister Francesco Rutelli, nine of the ten ancient Greek and Etruscan objects have been delivered to the Italian consulate in New York City; the remaining piece, a rare fifth-century B.C. Greek vessel, will be returned to Italy in 2010. Although Italy has successfully brokered deals for the return of artifacts over the past few years from American museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, the arrangement with White was the first negotiated with a private collector in the United States.

White, who sits on the board of the Met, has always maintained that she and her late husband, Leon Levy, bought their artifacts in good faith and had no knowledge that they may have been excavated clandestinely. Italian investigators say they have traced some of the artifacts to an Italian dealer convicted in 2004 of trafficking in illegal antiquities. Italian officials have not said White was involved in any crime, however, nor have they threatened her with prosecution.

While not accusatory, the negotiations with White were arduous and sometimes bitter, with White insisting that the Italians pledge never to pursue any other piece in her collection. Passionate about archaeology, she and her husband were long known not only as collectors but also as major sponsors of excavations. According to an official who wished to remain anonymous, White was pressured to return the pieces because "she was very visible. Other collectors tend to keep their antiquities at home."

While White may be safe from further investigation, other collectors may be less fortunate. When asked whether Italy would focus on additional private collectors, Rutelli replied, "The coming year will be full of surprises."

Elisabetta Povoledo. "Collector Returns Art Italy Says Was Looted." New York Times 01/18/2008.