‘Marcus Aurelius’ statue seized from Cleveland museum in looting probe

Authorities have seized an allegedly looted headless statue, believed to depict Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, from a museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

The bronze art was taken earlier this month by New York investigators who are probing claims that it was looted in the 1960s from Bubon, southern Turkey.

The 76-inch (1.9-meter) statue is about 1,800 years old and valued at around $20m (£16m), officials say.

Authorities have not yet said how the sculpture arrived in Ohio.

The statue appears to show the statesman and philosopher wearing a flowing robe. It had long been a fixture of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, the museum’s website had until recently described the statue as “The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180)”.

But a few weeks ago the website changed to say it is a “Draped Male Figure, c 150 BCE-200 CE” of possibly Greek or Roman origin.

The museum has not denied the looting claim, saying in a statement on Thursday that the institution “takes provenance issues very seriously and reviews claims to objects in the collection carefully and responsibly”.

The statement added that the museum “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”.

New York investigators have said little about the seizure.

On Thursday, they said it was related to an “ongoing criminal investigation into a smuggling network involving antiquities looted from Turkey and trafficked through Manhattan.”

Turkey first made its claim against the Marcus Aurelius statue in 2012 when it released a list of nearly two dozen items that it said had been looted from Bubon.

Zeynep Boz, the head of the Department for Combating Illicit Trafficking at Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said in a statement that “the enduring dispute surrounding this matter has kept Marcus Aurelius separated from his hometown for far too long”.

This is not the first time in recent memory that looted art has been returned to Turkey from Ohio.

In 2018, fragments of an almost 2,000 year old mosaic of a young girl were sent back after spending years at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University.

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