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Cleveland Museum of Art to Return a Rare Ancient Icon to Libya

Cleveland Museum of Art to Return a Rare Ancient Icon to Libya
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Art & Design|Cleveland Museum of Art to Return a Rare Ancient Icon to Libya

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/30/arts/design/cleveland-museum-of-art-statue-libya.html

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A 2,200-year-old sculpture of a bearded man carved from basalt, unearthed in the 1930s, is believed to have been stolen in the early 1940s.

A close-up of a statue, made of dark stone, features a face with a plain expression.
On Wednesday, after reviewing abundant proof that the item was stolen from Libya, the Cleveland Museum of Art agreed to transfer ownership to Libyan officials.Credit…via The Cleveland Museum of Art

While excavating an ancient Greek palace in eastern Libya in the 1930s, an archaeologist dug up a large earthen storage jar, looked inside and spotted something unexpected — a 2,200-year-old sculpture of a bearded man carved from basalt, a dark volcanic stone.

The two-foot-tall antiquity, most likely chiseled during ancient Egypt’s Ptolemaic Dynasty, was a rare find. Known as a striding male figure, it is one of only 33 statues like it known to exist, Egyptologists say.

But it wasn’t long before thieves got ahold of the bearded figure and took it on an illicit odyssey that brought it, in 1991, to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

On Wednesday, after curators had reviewed abundant proof that the item was stolen from Libya, including photos of it on display in the 1940s at a small museum near its discovery site, the museum agreed to transfer ownership to Libyan officials. In turn, Libya is allowing the museum to keep it on loan.

“When confronting a situation like this we look at all the material and try to come to an agreement that is beneficial to all parties,” said Seth Pevnick, curator of Greek and Roman art at the Cleveland museum.

“It’s less about ownership and more about access” to the object, he said, adding that the museum is hoping to display it on loan for five more years.


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