Special Agents Elizabeth Rivas and Allen Grove traveled to Italy for the repatriation of the mosaic to its home in Rome. Photo courtesy of FBI
Sept. 3 (UPI) — A mosaic of Medusa believed to have been made in the early days of the Roman Empire has been returned to Italy by the FBI.
The mosaic was shipped and arrived in Italy in April and experts are now working to clean and restore it, the FBI said in a news release on Friday.
The FBI said it first became aware of the mosaic in late 2020 when an art attorney had reached out on behalf of an anonymous client who possessed the historic art.
The client had no documentation on the provenance of the artwork, which would describe where the mosaic came from, and so was unable to sell it.
The mosaic was cut up into 16 pieces and stored on termite-infested pallets, each weighing between 75 and 200 pounds, in a Los Angeles storage facility since the 1980s.
“The pieces of the mosaic were largely intact thanks to the climate-controlled facility they’d been kept in,” FBI officials said in the news release.
Allen Grove and Elizabeth Rivas, special agents with the FBI Art Crime Team, worked to determine where the mosaic belonged so that the agency could return it.
The agents first reached out to a local art expert, who said the mosaic was likely from Italy or north Africa, then contacted the Carabiniere — the Italian counterpart of the FBI.
Officials with the Carabiniere told the FBI a few months later that the mosaic had been entered into cultural property records in 1909.
“The only modern record of the mosaic’s existence was a 1959 newspaper ad that appeared to show it for sale in the Los Angeles area,” according to the FBI.
The person who had possessed the mosaic agreed to pay for it to be sent to Italy in specialized shipping crates so that the pieces would arrive undamaged.
“We worked with the owner and made sure we documented the condition and had everything we needed to ship it back to Italy,” Grove said.
“We then worked with the Italian consulate here in Los Angeles. This is something of great interest to Italy; they came and inspected the mosaic and helped us facilitate the logistics of actually getting it back to Italy.”
Rivas added that the FBI was “very happy” that the lawyer and their client had contacted them.
“If they hadn’t, it could’ve been in storage for another hundred years,” Rivas said. “It’s a successful example of how we can work together to get pieces back to where they belong.”
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