Off-duty police officers make a surprising discovery in Brussels antique shop

It was revealed last week that an ancient Roman marble statue, which was stolen from the Villa Marini Dettina archaeological site near Rome in 2011, was located in an antique shop in Brussels earlier this year.

Two off-duty Italian police officers spotted the sculpture by chance whilst walking through Brussels’ Sablon district one evening earlier this year. The officers, who work for the branch of the Italian police responsible for tackling art and antiquities crime – the Carabinieri Art Squad– launched an investigation into the statue on their return to Italy, having been suspicious of the origins of the object. The Italian authorities compared photographs taken by the officers in Brussels with the Italian database of stolen artifacts – a hugely extensive database which stores data on 1.3 million looted art objects. This revealed that the statue was in fact the one stolen in 2011.

The impressive Roman statue dates to the First Century BC, and is known as a ‘Togatus’, a type of marble Roman statue which depicts a man wearing a toga. The head of the sculpture is now missing and there is some damage to it, which police believe is a result of tools being used during its theft. The statue is thought to be worth around €100,000, and other ‘Togatus’ statues can be found at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, as well as in the Capitoline Museums in Rome, where the famous Togatus Barberini is housed.

The stolen statue has now been returned to Italy. It was announced in a statement given by the Carabinieri Art Squad that an Italian businessman who uses a Spanish pseudonym has been referred to Rome’s Prosecutor Office accused of receiving the stolen statue and subsequently exporting it. The Italian Carabinieri have repatriated a number of stolen artworks and antiquities in recent years; in 2019, they arrested 23 individuals over the illegal trafficking of archaeological artefacts from Ancient Greece and Italy, and earlier this year they assisted in the return of a Nazi-looted painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) to the descendants of the Jewish family from whom it was stolen in France.

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