Italian cops recover stolen 18th-century desk once showcased at The Met
An elite squad of Italian art-loving cops has recovered a prized 18th-century desk that was swiped after World War II â" and showcased at the Met, authorities said Tuesday.
The $2.3 million historic treasure, which features ivory and mother-of-pearl inlays, is considered a masterpiece of Italyâs Pietro Piffetti, one of the most important ebony carpenters of his time.
Its recovery is nothing short of âexceptional,ââ said Italian Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli.
The valuable artifact had been filched from a former noblemanâs palace in Turin, Italy, after the war.
It was then moved through Switzerland and France and sold to a private owner before ending up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan in the 1990s, authorities said. The museum was not aware that it had been stolen, officials said.
âThis piece was at the museum on tempora ry loan in the late 1990s,â a spokeswoman for the Met told The Post on Tuesday. It was âthen returned to its owner over a decade ago.â
Italyâs special art-theft unit â" a group of cops within its state paramilitary force the Carabinieri â" only recently learned that the desk had been pilfered from the estate of Italian royalty.
Its latest owner, who was only identified as living in Europe, agreed to cough it up, authorities said, and the historic piece is already back in Italy.
The Italian detectives, part of a unit formed in 1969, are tasked with recovering and repatriating their countryâs stolen cultural works. They recover thousands of pilfered pieces annually â" including a treasureâs worth from the Met over the years.
But the museum doesnât always go along without a fight.
In 1972, it got its hands on the âEuphronios Krater,â a 2,500-year-old terracotta bowl, for $1 million, about a year after tomb raiders dug it up in Ita ly, and proudly put it on display. The museum did not know it was hot, officials said.
Under intense pressure from Italy, the museum finally gave it back to Italy in 2008.
Christieâs auction house in Manhattan also knows the Carabinieri cop squad well.
After the head of an ancient statue of the Greek god Dionysus was lopped off and smuggled out of the former estate of late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1983, it popped up in a catalog for an upcoming Christieâs auction nearly a quarter of a century later.
Christieâs was tipped off before the auction that the piece was stolen, the Carabinieri got involved â" and then-NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly even presided over its much-ballyhooed return to Italy in 2006.
âOn behalf of the New York Police Department, Iâm pleased to bring you the head of Dionysus,â Kelly quipped while standing next to the worn, grapefruit-sized artifact dating back to the 1st century, according to the New York Ti mes.
The auction house also oversaw the sale of a coveted â" and stolen â" letter that Christopher Columbus wrote to Spainâs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1493 after reaching the New World.
âThe convenience of the harbors in this island and the excellence of the rivers, in volume and salubrity, surpass human belief,â an overwhelmed Columbus marveled in the note, valued at more than $1 million.
It turned out that the letter had been stolen from a library in Florence sometime before 1990, replaced with a forgery and then peddled around the world â" eventually landing at the US Library of Congress.
The US returned the letter to Italy in 2010.
But while the Carabinieri cops have all of the latest technology at their fingertips to thwart art crimes, sometimes it just takes good old-fashioned police work.
One of their detectives was vacationing in Manhattan in 2010 when he strolled past a Madison Avenue art gallery â" and made an astounding discovery.
âI stopped to look at the gallery window, and I recognized the statue,ââ recalled the sharp-eyed cop, Michele Speranza, referring to an ancient bronze work of the Greek god Zeus â" which had been swiped from Italyâs National Museum in Rome in the 1980s and given up for lost.
Authorities eventually recovered two pilfered pieces from the shop: the Zeus statue and a marble female torso, both of which dated back to the 1st century and were worth about $680,000 a pop.
Additional reporting by Yaron SteinbuchSource: Google News Italy | Netizen 24 Italy