New York, NY – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement yesterday seized a Pompeian wall panel with fresco decoration from a Manhattan auction house that was reported stolen in Italy 12 years ago.
The fresco panel, which was the subject of an international search by INTERPOL, was located at Christie’s New York and brought to the attention of ICE and Italian Authorities by Attorney Christopher A. Marinello.
Italian authorities provided ICE agents via the ICE attache in Rome with information and documents identifying the fresco panel as stolen, and part of the cultural property of Italy.
The panel, which depicts standing woman holding a ritualistic vessel, was stolen from the excavation office in Pompeii with five other fresco panels on June 26, 1997. The Carabinieri cultural patrimony unit previously recovered the other five missing frescoes.
“We are pleased to assist in the recovery of this fresco panel. It completes the collection of the six panels reported stolen from the Italian government close to 12 years ago,” said Peter J. Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in New York. The six fresco panels were discovered between 1903 and 1904 by farmer Giuseppe De Martino, during the restoration of his farmhouse in Boscoreale, near Naples. In July 1957, the frescoes became the property of the Italian government. Following completion of work at the excavation site in 1997, the six panels were discovered missing. The theft was reported to INTERPOL and private databases.
By the time the wall fragment surfaced on the market, it had undergone significant restoration and repairs, but was distinctive enough that it was easily recognised by art historians. The auction house had been provided with unverified provenance stating that the object had been in the United States for over twenty years.
Once the object was identified as stolen property, the auction house cooperated with ICE and Mr. Marinello.
POSTSCRIPT: While the official ICE and Carabinieri press releases point to an official seizure at Christie’s, Chris Marinello can now reveal that the “seizure” was not as glamorous as previously thought. Marinello negotiated an unconditional release of this object from Christie’s consignor and carried it back to his office via the New York City subway system before handing it over to ICE agents.