NEW YORK — A headless bronze statue believed to depict the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius was ordered seized from the Cleveland Museum of Art by New York authorities investigating antiquities looted from Turkey.
A warrant signed by a judge in Manhattan on Aug. 14 ordered the seizure of the statue, which the museum acquired in 1986 and had been a highlight of its collection of ancient Roman art.
The warrant was secured as part of an ongoing investigation into a smuggling network involving antiquities looted from Bubon in southwestern Turkey and trafficked through Manhattan, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said. No details of the investigation were provided.
The 76-inch (1.9-meter) statue dates from A.D. 180 to 200 and is worth $20 million, according to the district attorney's office.
The Plain Dealer reported that the statue was removed from view more than two months ago and that the museum changed the description of the piece on its website, where it now calls the statue a “Draped Male Figure" instead of indicating a connection to Marcus Aurelius.
Turkey first made claims about the statue in 2012 when it released a list of nearly two dozen objects in the Cleveland museum’s collection that it said had been looted from Bubon and other locations. Museum officials said at the time that Turkey had provided no hard evidence of looting.
“The enduring dispute surrounding this matter has kept him separated from his hometown,” Zeynep Boz of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism said of the statue.
In an emailed statement, Boz said the seizure "provides a strong sense of hope, long-awaited, for the rectification of a willing wrongdoing.”
Todd Mesek, a spokesperson for the museum, said in a statement Thursday that the museum could not comment on the Marcus Aurelius statue while it is the subject of litigation.
”The Cleveland Museum of Art takes provenance issues very seriously and reviews claims to objects in the collection carefully and responsibly. As a matter of policy, the CMA does not discuss publicly whether a claim has been made. The CMA believes that public discussion before a resolution is reached detracts from the free and open dialogue between the relevant parties that leads to the best result for all concerned," Mesek wrote.
The Manhattan district attorney's office has worked in recent years to repatriate hundreds of objects looted from countries including Turkey, Greece, Israel and Italy. It was unclear who might be targeted in the investigation of the statue seized in Cleveland.
Marcus Aurelius ruled as Roman emperor from A.D. 161 to 180 and was a Stoic philosopher whose “Meditations” have been studied over the centuries.
The seized statue shows a man in flowing robes holding one hand in front of him in a regal pose.
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