Met Museum of Art turns ancient vase over to prosecutors

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NEW YORK (AP) — An ancient vase that for years was housed in the elegant galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is taking up space in a much different place — a prosecutor's office.

The vase, known as a bell krater and used to hold wine, has been the subject of questions over its provenance and whether it was originally looted from Italy decades ago. A warrant issued July 24 said it "constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate that the crime of criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree was committed."

The museum bought the piece at an auction in 1989 for just under $100,000. It said it had been reaching out to the Italian government's Ministry of Culture after an image of the vase was published in 2014, similar to how it had handled other issues concerning artifacts, and cooperated with the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

"When the Manhattan DA contacted the Met in recent months, we immediately took the piece off display," museum spokesman Ken Weine said.

The museum turned over the piece, which dates to 360-350 B.C. and has an image of the Greek god Dionysus being pulled in a cart, on July 25 and gave the district attorney's office all related paperwork. Vance's office declined to comment.

The issue of artifacts with questionable provenances is one that has come up before in New York. In May, seven statues and vessels dating as far back as the eighth century B.C. were returned to Italian officials after coming to light at two art galleries. Vance's office said they had been looted from Italy in the 1990s and smuggled out of the country.

In December 2016, the U.S. returned to Italy a marble statue that had been stolen from Rome in 1983 and turned in to officials in 2015.

In April 2016, a stone sculpture of Buddha's footprints that had been taken from a region in Pakistan in the early 1980s was returned to that country. An antiquities dealer who pleaded guilty to criminal possession of stolen property said he had shipped it to the United States to sell at a gallery for more than $1 million.

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