Etruscan black-figure kalpis to be returned to Italy

CLEVELAND – A rare Etruscan black-figure kalpis, which has been traced back to 510 B.C., can now be returned to the government of Italy following an agreement between the United States and the Toledo, Ohio, Museum of Art, federal officials announced today.

The kalpis, a ceramic vessel used in ancient times for holding water, depicts a mythological scene of pirates being transformed into dolphins by Dionysos, as well as other scenes. It was smuggled out of Italy after an illegal excavation prior to 1981. It was then sold in 1982 to the Toledo Museum of Art by art dealers Gianfranco and Ursula Becchina, who had earlier purchased it from convicted art smuggler Giacomo Medici. The Becchinas misrepresented the true provenance of the vase to the museum by providing falsified documentation, according to court records.

“This is an example of our office, ICE-HSI and the Toledo Museum of Art working collaboratively to return this artifact to its rightful place,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “A cultural artifact such as this has value beyond its price tag, and we are proud that it will be returned to Italy later this year.”

“This agreement establishes the true provenance of the kalpis and reconnects this valuable artifact to its rightful cultural origin and history,” said Brian M. Moskowitz, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) in Michigan and Ohio. “We applaud the integrity of the Toledo Museum of Art for its willingness to ensure that this piece is repatriated to its home country.”

The kalpis is valued at more than $665,000, according to court documents.

Following a January 2010 lead from ICE-HSI Rome attaché, Cleveland-based HSI special agents launched an investigation into the true provenance of the artifact. Working closely with law enforcement officials in Italy, HSI agents were able to definitively establish that the documentation provided to the Toledo Museum of Art was falsified and part of a larger scheme by the Becchinas to sell illegitimately obtained cultural property. Gianfranco Becchina was convicted in February 2011 of illicitly dealing in antiquities by a court in Rome.

The kalpis will be formally repatriated in an official ceremony later this year with the Toledo Museum of Art, federal officials and representatives from the Italian government.

The settlement comes after an investigation by ICE-HSI. It was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Guillermo “Bill” Rojas.