In 2020, an attorney contacted the FBI Art Crime Team on behalf of an anonymous client who owned a giant “mosaic of the mythical figure Medusa,” the FBI said.
According to the FBI, the mosaic was cut into 16 pieces, each weighing between 75 and 200 pounds, and stored individually on pallets that had been stored inside a storage unit in Los Angeles since the 1980s.
“The client could not sell the work because it did not have the documentation known in the art world as provenance,” the FBI wrote. It’s the same as trying to sell a car when you’re out of business.”
It is unclear how the anonymous client obtained the work or how long it was in the United States, but the FBI said it “could have been lost for as long as 100 years.” .
Two special agents, Elizabeth Rivas and Allen Grove, tracked down the origin of the mosaic so that it could be returned to its rightful owner.
According to the FBI, Italian police confirmed that the mosaics were Italian and “registered in the Register of Cultural Properties in 1909.” “The only contemporary record of Mosaic’s existence is a 1959 newspaper advertisement that appeared to be for sale in the Los Angeles area.”
“The mosaics were handcrafted from a time when people put an amazing amount of care and effort into them. It speaks to the ingenuity and creativity of the time,” Grove said. “It’s not meant to be in Los Angeles. The mosaics are from the people of Rome. You can understand a little bit about human history 2,000 years ago.”
Italian officials traveled to Los Angeles to inspect the mosaics and plan how best to bring them back to Rome.
To ensure that the artifact arrived in Italy undamaged, the anonymous client covered the cost of a dedicated shipping box that was then sent through diplomatic channels. Artwork confirmed by the FBI that he arrived safely in April.
Italian art specialists are currently cleaning and restoring the mosaics. Some of the storage pallets were infested with termites, but the pieces were “mostly intact thanks to being stored in a temperature-controlled facility,” he said.
Efforts are underway in the United States to repatriate cultural artifacts that are often illegally sold to private collectors and museums.
In 2021, the MET returned three African art objects to Nigeria, including a 16th-century Benin brass plaque. The move comes after European museums began to face mounting pressure to return irreplaceable artifacts looted during the colonial era.