Statue at Cleveland Museum of Art Seized in International Looting Investigation

A 6’4” headless bronze statue is leaving the Cleveland Museum of Art after 37 years as part of an international art looting investigation. Last month, a New York judge signed a warrant to seize the statue, which is believed to have been trafficked through New York.

The museum’s current listing for the statue is titled “Draped Male Figure, c. 150 BCE–200 CE, Roman or possibly Greek Hellenistic”.

However, internet archives show that, as recently as March 2023, the piece was listed as “The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180), c. AD 180–200, Turkey, Bubon(?) (in Lycia), Roman, late 2nd Century”.

The statue is the most prominent in a list of 21 pieces in the Cleveland Museum of Art which Turkey alleges were looted from the country. In 2012 Turkey began requesting the return of the pieces–which contain art and antiquities from the Hittite Period to the Ottoman Period.

Turkish officials said the statue was stolen from the southwestern city of Bubon, part of the Anatolia region in the Roman Empire, in the 1960s.

The investigation comes as part of a broader movement reexamining the ethics of many museums and collections that ranges from colonial conquest to modern provenance, the history of a piece’s ownership.

Many institutions, particularly in the West and the Global North, have faced calls to return art and artifacts thought to have been illegally or unethically acquired to their countries of origin.

The museum’s chief marketing officer, Todd Mesek, declined to answer questions at the time of publication but told Cleveland Scene:

“The Cleveland Museum of Art takes provenance issues very seriously and reviews claims to objects in the collection carefully and responsibly. We believe 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. As a matter of policy, the CMA does not discuss publicly whether a claim has been made.”
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