- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2008

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia plans to return two ancient Greek sculptures to Italy nearly three decades after tomb raiders looted them from Sicily.

The acroliths of the Greek goddesses were created about 525 B.C. out of cloth, wood and marble. They have been on display at the university’s art museum since being donated to the university in 2002.

“We’re honored that we had them,” UVa. art history professor Malcolm Bell III said. “We took good care of them. A lot of students saw them and learned from them. Now we’re happy to return them to Italy.”

The life-size statues were originally displayed inside a temple in Morgantina, an ancient Greek settlement near what is now the Italian city of Aidone. They are thought to represent Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and grain, and her daughter Persephone, the queen of the underworld.

UVa. hasn’t disclosed who donated the statues. However, the New York Times reported in September that New York diamond merchant and philanthropist Maurice Tempelsman previously owned the acroliths.

Upon receiving the statues in 2002, the university negotiated a deal to keep them for five years, with the understanding that they would be returned to Italy afterward. The Italian government endorsed the deal.

To mark the return of the sculptures, the school will host a symposium Feb. 2 titled “The Goddesses Return.”

Following the event — which will feature discussions on museum ethics, the antiquities market and archaeological preservation — members of the Italian police, or carabinieri, will escort the acroliths back to Italy.

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