Italy’s Government Blacklists Minneapolis Institute Of Art For Loans

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) has become musea non grata to the Italian government after a yearslong dispute over a Pentelic marble copy of a lost bronze by the ancient Greek sculptor Polykleitos depicting the “spear-bearer” Doryphoros, the Art Newspaper reported Friday.

The sculpture, measuring more than six feet high, is currently at the MIA, but Italy claims it was looted in the 1970s from the archaeological site at Stabiae and that, in February 2022, it requested the Doryphoros be returned. Nunzio Fragliasso, chief prosecutor at the court of Torre Annunziata, said at a press conference in Pompeii this past February that the request has gone unanswered. 

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An old Greek vase.

The MIA, which bought the Doryphoros in 1986 for $2.5 million, says that the statue was found in international waters near the Italian coast, which means that Italy has no claim to the work. As a result of the feud, the Italian culture ministry’s director of museums, Massimo Osanna, banned state museums from loaning works to the MIA.

The order followed a request from the MIA to borrow the 16th-century Flemish Tapestries of the Battle of Pavia from the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. The Italian culture minister reportedly told Katherine Crawford Luber, MIA’s director, that the disagreement over the statue “prevents further collaboration between Italian state museums and the Minneapolis museum.”

According to the Art Newspaper, Italy has designs on the Doryphoros becoming a part of the permanent collection of the newly renovated archaeological museum in Castellammare di Stabia, which reopened March 4.

Since the 2022 request, Italy has worked resolve the disagreement, lending 10 works by Botticelli from the Uffizi Galleries in Florence to the MIA that same year and, last year, the Palazzo Barberini’s Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes (1599). “The ministry has made every effort to find an amicable solution to the issue,” Osanna told the Italian news outlet La Repubblica.

Italy has banned loans to US museums in the past for refusing to return works to which the country believes it has a claim. In 2020 the country began “limiting relations” with the Getty Villa Museum in Los Angeles after the Getty refused to return an ancient Greek bronze discovered in 1964 by fishermen near Pesaro, on Italy’s Adriatic coast.

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