6 Works of Lost and Found Art

Stolen, lost at sea, these works of art are now safely in museums

Weather, war, and theft have caused many of the world's greatest works of art and architecture to disappear. But sometimes unusual circumstances restored them to their rightful place. These 6 museums contain treasures that were lost and found. From the stolen "Euphronius Krater" that was returned to Italy after being stolen by tomb raiders to the "Riace Bronzes" discovered by an amateur diver in the Ionian Sea, read about these incredible stories and find out how you can go see these works of art and architecture for yourself.

01 of 06

National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia, Lazio

The controversial artwork is now on display in Tarquinia
Public domain

In the wake of the scandals surrounding looted art on display in American museums, it was a very big deal in 2008 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after a 30-year tug-of-war, gave back the Euphronius Krater. It was received by officials in Rome, exhibited at the Quirinal Palace, but ultimately returned to Tarqunia, a small town on the border of Tuscany and Lazio and the krater's closest point of origin.

The "Euphronius Krater" is named for the artist and was made around 515 B.C.E. (A krater is a bowl used for mixing wine and water.) It depicts a scene from Homer's "The Illiad" and was considered an important acquisition when it came to The Met in 1972. Immediately Italian officials suspected that it had been plundered from the ground at Ceveteri, a former Etruscan necropolis or burial ground.

In the 1970s tomb raiders were selling looted antiquities to dealers who then sold them to important museums including The Met, ​the Getty and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Suspicions turned into scandals, investigations led to court cases, convictions and the return of antiquities.

While Tarquinia is fairly small town, tourists go to see the Etruscan tomb paintings, often as a side trip from nearby wineries, spas, and beaches. The museum has an extraordinary collection of Etruscan art and enjoys a robust program of educational events and exhibitions. Though the famous "Euphronius Krater" might seem so important that it should remain on view where a larger number of tourists can see it, its home in Tarquinia is where it most rightfully belongs and where it can be best understood within a larger historical context. Also recommended is a visit to the necropolis at Ceveteri.

National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia

Palazzo Vitelleschi - Piazza Cavour - Tarquinia (Viterbo)

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8:30-7:30 pm

Admission: €6

02 of 06

Musei Civici Madonna del Parto, Monterchi, Tuscany

Monterchi, Tuscany
Public Domain

Around 30,000 tourists per year will visit the tiny town of Monterchi to see the "Madonna del Parto" by Renaissance master Piero della Francesca. Like much of mysterious Piero's even more mysterious oeuvre, no one knows who commissioned this strange image of a pregnant Virgin Mary. 

It was once displayed inside a medieval church just outside Monterchi near a spring that was associated with a pre-Christian fertility cult. Later it was tucked away in a rustic cemetery chapel and barely survived two earthquakes.

Finally, in 1991 it was taken into the town of Monterchi for conservation inside a schoolhouse that became a de-facto museum for the fresco. Since then, arguments persist about where the painting should ultimately be displayed, but Monterchi residents and officials are steadfast that anyone who wants to see the masterwork but come to them. In early 2016 local officials even turned down hundreds of thousands of euros to loan the painting to the Capitoline Museum in Rome for a special exhibition about Piero della Francesca.

A new museum may be built eventually, but for now, the old Fascist-era schoolhouse serves for the "Madonna del Parto."

Musei Civici Madonna del Parto

Via della Reglia, 1, 52035 Monterchi AR, Italy

Hours: Open Wednesday through Monday, 9 am - 1 pm, 2-5 pm

Admission: €6,50

03 of 06

Museo Mandralisca, Cefalù, Sicily

A once lost painting by Antonello da Messina
Allison Scola

Sicily's beauty is breathtaking and tourists often marvel at the food, wine and natural beauty over the museums. But Sicily expert and tour operator Allison Scola has a little secret.

"A couple of weeks ago, the day our group was in Cefalù, I wandered off on my own. The hidden corner I sought after was the Museo Mandraliscaa small collection of art and archeological works that is packed with punch. The punch here is of a masterpiece by renowned Sicilian artist Antonello da Messina (1430-1479). It’s of an unknown man, believed to be a wealthy merchant from Lipari Island, one of the Eolian Islands. The work was painted by Messina in the mid 15th century. Apparently, no one knew it existed until it was “discovered” in the 19th century on Lipari, where it was being used as a cupboard door in a pharmacy. Thankfully now, it’s “hidden” in the museum.

Museo Mandralisca

Via Mandralisca, 13, 90015 Cefalù PA, Italy

Open Monday-Friday, 9am-1pm. To make a reservation email: fondazione.mandralisca@gmail.com

04 of 06

Paestum Museum and Archaelogical Park, Capaccio-Paestum, Campania

Paestum Archaeological Park
Danielle Oteri

Paestum is the Roman name for the Greek colony called Poseidonia. The massive temples built along what was then the sea's edge were devoted to Hera and Poseidon. When the Romans took over the site, they worshipped Neptune and Minerva and enhanced the temple grounds with private dwellings. But when pirates from North Africa started raiding the coastline during the early Middle Ages, locals fled to the mountain villages of what is now the Cilento National Park and abandoned the temples.

Over the centuries, the temples sunk into the marshy land. The area became rife with malaria-carrying mosquitos and the temples were effectively lost in the overgrowth.

Though locals always knew about the temples, it was not until Mussolini ordered the land drained that the full scope of the archaeological site became known. Excavations revealed sculpture from the temples' friezes, devotional and household objects and a series of tomb paintings including the famous "Tomb of the Diver."

Today the small town called Capaccio-Paestum, less than an hour's drive from the Amalfi coast has a wonderful museum directly across the street from the temple complex. Now led by Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the entire museum and park is swiftly becoming much more accessible to visitors with extended hours, dramatic performances on the temples and family-friendly historical re-enactments. Even the museum's website recently received an overhaul which for Italy is no small deal. It's a new era for classical Paestum.

National Archaeological Museum of Paestum

Via Magna Grecia, 919 - 84063 Capaccio (SA)

Hours: Daily from 8:30 am -7:30 pm

Saturdays from May 7-October 1 open 8:30 am -10:30 pm

Admission: € 9,00 includes both the museum and the archaeological park.

Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06

Goleto Abbey, Campania

Goleto Abbey

The region east of Naples called Irpinia has always suffered greatly from earthquakes and the big one that hit in 1980 nearly destroyed Goleto Abbey which has stood since the 12th century. Local officials have slowly and lovingly repaired the monastery with still more work needed.

This Benedictine Abbey was a convent, but also had a small community of monks in residence in their own cloister. Established by Saint William, the patron saint of Irpinia, this Romanesque ruin is dear to the people of this region and a source of great pride. Inside the state-of-the-art tasting room at nearby ​Feudi di San Gregorio, a small-scale version of the Goleto Abbey has been constructed behind the wine barrels.

When wine tour leader Christian Galliani visited Goleto Abbey, he was surprised to find such a magnificent piece of architecture in such a rural setting.

"We visited in the late afternoon, just before dusk. The honey bees were buzzing in the jasmine trees that still surround the property and the air was thick with the aroma of the blooms. The scale of the property is huge, and partially in ruins due to the Irpinian earthquake of 1980. I was simultaneously filled with both a sense of awe and melancholy due to its size, obvious beauty, and the devastation of the earthquake."

Though it's certainly remote, Goleto Abbey is a fascinating and unique place for travelers who love medieval architecture. Among the greatest treasures still remaining is a fresco of Scholastica, the abbess of the monastery. 

Because visitors are so few, the museum does not keep regular hours and a reservation is necessary as is a car in order to reach the town of Sant Angelo dei Lombardi, about an hour away from Naples.

Goleto Abbey

Contrada San Guglielmo ,Sant Angelo dei Lombardi

For reservations contact info@goleto.it

06 of 06

Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia, Reggio Calabria, Calabria

Riace Bronzes
National Museum of the Magna Grecia

Right on the toe of Italy's boot is Reggio Calabria, known for spicy food, spectacular views and the "Riace Bronzes." Though the region is filled with ancient ruins, Reggio Calabria is a mostly modern city as a result of the devastation following the 1908 earthquake, the deadliest earthquake to ever hit Europe. For decades, Reggio Calabria was the merely a point of passage for tourists who were taking the ferry across the Straits of Messina to Sicily, but that changed in 1972 when the "Riace Bronzes" were found by an amateur diver off of the Calabrian Coast.

The bronze warriors made around 460 B.C.E. and probably drowned in a shipwreck as they were being transported from Greece to the Italian mainland during Roman rule of Southern Italy. Wealthy Romans sought after and collected artworks from Greek antiquity that they both displayed and copied. The majority of what we know about Greek sculpture today remains in the form of Roman copies which is what made the discovery of the Riace Bronzes so monumental. 

Life size figures of heroic, idealized men, the sculptures still retain their glass eyes, which offers a unique understanding of how these works looked before centuries of decay. (Flip open any art history textbook and you will invariably find the Riace Bronzes.) 

If they were at The Met or the Louvre, they would be the pride of the collection. That they're in a small museum in an relatively un-touristed city is a source of tremendous local pride. The "Riace Bronzes" appear on every sign, map and even on the bathroom walls of the train station McDonald's.

They were taken off view in 2009 while the museum underwent a lengthy renovation. Critics worried that the Riace Warriors had been lost and abandoned yet again, this time by the local bureaucracy with a bad reputation for corruption. Finally, they were put back on-view in 2013 in a new state-of-the-art facility.

In addition to the enhanced museum which boasts many other archaeological treasures, the Lungomare along the stunning seaside has been renewed. There has never been a better time to visit this off-the-beaten path Italian city.

Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia

Piazza Giuseppe De Nava, 26, 89123 Reggio Calabria RC, Italy

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9am-8pm

Admission: €8

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