ΑΤΗΕΝS – Greece has made an agreement to get return of 161 Cycladic figures that will see them returned to the Cycladic Museum in Athens over a period of years, after loaning them to the New York Metropolitan Museum.
Under the agreement ratified at the committee level in the Greek Parliament, the figures will be returned to Greece in batches of 15 every five years but after a year’s stay at the Cycladic Museum will be sent back to the Met for 10 years.
Once the Parliament where New Democracy has a majority ratifies the deal, the first 15 figures dated from 3300-1100 BC will be sent to Greece, the expenses paid by the Met, which will display them until 2034.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said, “The bill will bring back to Greece 161 antiquities that we did not know existed, were not registered at any ministry department, and therefore we would never have acquired or claimed,” said Kathimerini.
The rare figurines were donated to the Institute of Ancient Greek Culture in Delaware, with the provision that they will be shown at the Metropolitan Museum before returning to Greece over the coming years.
Government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou said the deal will recognize Greece’s ownership of the artifacts from the Early Bronze Age Cycladic civilization that were given to the Delaware institute.
He didn’t name the American collector but two people with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press they were from the collection of Leonard Stern, an 84-year-old pet supplies and real estate businessman.
“Many of (the pieces) are extremely rare or even unique examples of the art and artisanship of the 3rd millennium B.C. Cycladic civilization, and offer new data to scientific knowledge of the period,” Oikonomou said.
He provided no details how the works had been excavated and exported from Greece, or from where they came and said they were “unknown” artifacts, archaeologists saying antiquities of unspecified provenance are usually plundered, without useful information on their function and cultural significance a legitimate excavation would have provided.
Oikonomou said the agreement, which avoids any legal dispute or payment by the Greek government, could serve as a model for further restitutions. The pieces are “rare and even unique examples of art and artisanship of […] the civilization, and offer new data to scientific knowledge of the period,” he added.
“This creates a procedure and a means that encourages other collectors of Greek antiquities to make similar moves … that don’t carry the disadvantages of a court process,” he said.
The Cycladic civilization flourished in the Cyclades island group of the Aegean Sea roughly between 3000-2000 B.C. It’s best known for the iconic white marble figurines of naked female forms that inspired artists including Pablo Picasso.
Their huge popularity among private collectors and museums worldwide sparked an orgy of unlawful excavations across the Cyclades in the 20th Century although Greek officials for decades have tried to get them back, after being sold for millions of dollars.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)