NY Authorities Seize Statue at Cleveland Museum

Ancient statue was allegedly looted from archaeological site in Turkey
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 1, 2023 8:23 AM CDT
NY Authorities Seize Statue at Cleveland Museum
"The Emperor as Philosopher," a Roman-era statue, thought to represent Marcus Aurelius, stands in a gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, June 25, 2010.   (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

The star attraction of the Cleveland Museum of Art's ancient Roman collection is now in the custody of New York authorities. The New York District Attorney's office says a 6-foot-4 headless bronze statue believed to represent emperor Marcus Aurelius has been "seized in place" under a state judge's order as part of an investigation of antiquities looted from Turkey and trafficked through New York, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The statue, believed to be around 1,800 years old, was acquired by the museum in 1986. The New York DA's office said it is worth $20 million and will be transported to New York this month, reports the AP.

Turkish officials say they first informed the museum in 2012 that the statue was among around two dozen items in its collection they believe were looted from the archaeological site of Bubon and other locations, but the museum said they didn't have evidence of theft, the New York Times reports. Officials say they have "significant new evidence" proving the statue was stolen from Turkey. The statue was removed from public view two months ago without explanation. The museum has also changed the description of the statue on its website. It was previously listed as "The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius," with its origin given as "Turkey, (Bubon?", per the Times.

The museum's website now described it as "Draped Male Figure," and adds that with no head or inscription, "the identity of the figure represented remains unknown." Colgate University Professor Elizabeth Marlowe, who has studied sculptures taken from Bubon, says she is "dismayed" by the changes, the Plain Dealer reports. "It seems like the museum is pretending to know less than they really do," she says. The Times notes that Turkey's claim to the statue "hinged in part on persuading investigators that the statue in fact depicted Marcus Aurelius." Museum spokesperson Todd Mesek said the museum "takes provenance issues very seriously and reviews claims to objects in the collection carefully and responsibly." (More art museum stories.)

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