Manhattan’s DA office recently seized antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) to repatriate them to their homes.
While the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has carried out multiple raids on the Met this year, this was the largest one yet (though the exact number was not revealed). The recovered artifacts include the head of a marble statue of the Greek goddess Athena, dating back to 200 BCE. Two more Greek statues, of brother Castor and Pollux, were also seized. Another warrant to recover a 6th-century sculpture of a Hindu deity from India was obtained.
The Met has a standard policy around repatriation which has been in place for many years. According to it, countries that want objects repatriated must put in a formal request, as well as prove beyond doubt that the objects were indeed stolen from them. However, in recent years repatriation has become a hot topic in the art community. A consensus has been forming that museums should come forward and repatriate objects in their collection that do not have proper provenance.
The New York antiquities office, which carried out the raid, was established in 2017 to combat the trafficking of antique objects. One of the core goals of the unit has been to recover cultural objects from other countries that do not have proper provenance and return them to their home. The unit has raided the Met numerous times before, as early as in 2017 soon after its formation when they recovered a 2300-year-old vase.
This year alone, they have carried out six raids on the museum. The most recent one in July yielded antiquities worth $11 million. However, its actions have not been without criticism. Some have accused the unit of confiscating trivial artworks to inflate their numbers and make it a PR stunt.