Thursday, May 21, 2009

Byzantine frescos from Italy recovered in Greece

ANSA - English Media Service

Two medieval frescoes looted from a tomb near Naples in 1982 and recently returned by Greece were among recovered treasures presented by Italy's art cops Tuesday.

The frescoes of two saints were recovered by Greek antiquities police in a raid on Greek art traffickers on the Aegean island of Schinoussa in 2006. Police estimate the frescos would fetch euro 500,000 on the black market.

Culture Ministry Archeology Director Stefano De Caro presented the frescoes to the press along with a pre-Ptolemaic Egyptian granite head, robbed from a Roman museum several years ago, and a sixth-century BC Etruscan vase stolen from Palermo's Museo Solinas 15 years ago.

Speaking alongside the head of the Carabinieri Police Unit for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage, General Gianni Nistri, De Caro said the frescoes were probably the most important pieces of recently recovered art.

They originally adorned the walls of one of the famous tufa chambers called Fornelle at Calvi south of Monte Cassino, site of the Ancient Roman city of Cales.

The particularly ornate chamber - many of whose frescoes are still missing - is believed to have been the tomb of 11th-century Count Pandolfo and his wife Countess Gualferada.

Because of their fragile state and conservation and security difficulties, the frescoes will not be returned to the tomb but will ''probably'' find a home, at least provisionally, in an antiquities collection recently put together at the Bourbon Reggia di Caserta, De Caro said.

Handing over the frescoes in March, Greek Culture Minister Antoni Samaras said the event marked "nother important stage in collaboration with our Italian friends and partners in the fight against art theft''.

Italy and Greece launched a joint battle some years ago to crack down on trafficking and reclaim smuggled works from museums around the world.