ROME – Two ancient statues stolen in the 1980s from Italian museums are now back home, thanks in part to a police art squad expert who spotted one of them in a New York gallery while window-shopping on vacation in the United States.
The bronze statue of the Greek god Zeus and a marble female torso, both dating from the 1st century, had ended up in the hands of a dealer and a collector in New York, officials told a news conference Friday in Rome.
The torso, from a small museum in Terracina, south of Rome, was on display in a Madison Ave. art gallery when Michele Speranza, a member of the Italian Carabinieri art squad that hunts down stolen artifacts, strolled by when on holiday last year.
"I stopped to look at the gallery window and I recognized the statue," Speranza, 38, told reporters. "I thought I had seen it among the photos in our databank" of missing art, said the officer, who took a photo of the work with his cell phone and did some research when he returned to his job in Rome.
"The statue had been given up for lost" after it being stolen in 1988, said Gen. Pasquale Muggeo, head of the Carabinieri art division renowned for tracking down art treasures and artifacts stolen or illegally excavated from Italian soil.
The bronze and the torso are each valued at €500,000 ($680,000), authorities said.
The Zeus was stolen from the National Museum in Rome near the capital's main train station in 1980, and was tracked to a New York collector after a photo of it appeared in a Sotheby's auction catalog in 2006. The art squad methodically studies catalogues of major auction houses.
No arrests have been made in either theft. Authorities said those who owned the statues were unaware of their illegal provenance.
U.S. customs and immigration officials aided in the investigation.
Martino Villosio contributed to this report.