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National treasures returned to Italy

Release Date: 
December 22, 2016

A stolen 19th century painting and a page from a manuscript nearly 700 years old were returned to Italy on December 9, during a ceremony at the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C., thanks to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its partner agency, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Each artifact arrived in the U.S. differently.

The Consalvo Corelli painting, depicting a woman riding a donkey, was stolen from a Naples residence in 2001. It surfaced at a Pennsylvania auction house in 2014 and was sold to a Sacramento, California, art dealer.

The illuminated manuscript page, an exquisite multi-color portrait of St. Lucy, was purchased in good faith by the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1952, according to the Italian embassy. At the time, the piece was incorrectly attributed to the wrong artist by the previous owner.

Commisioner Kerlikowske and Italian diplomat
CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske (left)
and Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio
sign the documents that formally return the
recovered artworks. Photo by Glenn Fawcett

The Carabinieri, one of Italy’s national law enforcement organizations, requested CBP and ICE to assist in recovering the items.

At the repatriation ceremony, attended by Raymond Villanueva, ICE assistant director for international operations where the two masterworks were officially handed back to Italy, CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske provided keynote comments.

He underscored the expertise and support CBP provides in recovering artifacts that are rightfully part of a nation’s heritage. “I’m honored and pleased to participate in repatriating these two magnificent works of art to the Italian Republic,” he said. “We are honored to continue this relationship with our partners.”

The legacy properties were retrieved from the art dealer and the museum by Homeland Security Investigation agents.

Repatriated treasures: An illustrated
14th-century manuscript page (left)
and a Corelli painting.
Photos by Glenn Fawcett

Armando Varricchio, Italy’s ambassador to the U.S., said the repatriation was possible because of the commitment the two nations uphold in returning stolen and missing artworks outlined in a memorandum of understanding between the Republic of

Italy and United States. “It’s long-standing commitment,” he said.

Along with the ambassador, embassy officials and about 50 others at the ceremony, General Fabrizio Parrulli from the Carabinieri’s Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, also participated.

In February, 2015, CBP and ICE worked together to repatriate 19 stolen Italian artifacts during a ceremony in New York City at the Consulate General of Italy.

Last modified: 
February 3, 2021