Italy’s new populist government announced last week that it will be enforcing new laws for art related crimes, in line with its efforts to preserve its culture as a major part of its nationalistic agenda.
The crackdown on preserving cultural heritage lost to illegal smuggling comes after numerous successful repatriations of art and antiquities that were smuggled to major auction houses in the U.S and Europe and attempted to be sold for millions of euros. The items included a wine carafe, a soup tureen and other ancient greek antiquities that were recovered in the US over the past two years and successfully returned to Italy.
The government even went as far as announcing its plan to ratify the Nicosia Convention, an international agreement that enforces punishment for offences relating to cultural property such as the illegal trade of cultural artifacts.
The government, currently a coalition comprised of the Five Star Movement (5SM) and the League party, ran an “Italy first” campaign and among their many promises was to protect the country’s rich culture.
“We want to introduce laws on specific crimes so there are stiffer penalties applied to crimes against our cultural heritage, which is a fundamental part of our identity,” Alberto Bonisoli, Italy’s Culture Minister told the Telegraph at a ceremony in Washington, DC. celebrating and defending the repatriation.
“These recovered works tell the story of our obligation to spare no effort in our collaboration to ensure our past survives for our kids and grandchildren,” Armando Varricchio, Italian Ambassador to the US, added.
“Today the commercialisation of online platforms for rapidly selling art and archaeological objects allows our investigators to see these objects abroad on a daily basis,” Fabrizio Parrulli, head of the Italian Carabinieri’s art crime department told the Telegraph. “Thanks to our collaborators at the Met Police and the FBI we are developing a diplomatic culture of restitution that involves actually bringing the works back to their place of origin.”
This comes at a particularly interesting time for the antiquities market, with many high-profile sales like Christie’s 3,000 year old Assyrian relief last month, stirring public outcry and debate around the moral responsibility of such sales and their respective auction houses.