NEWS

Ancient statuette stolen during WWII returned to Greece

It’s only the size of a pen, but the return of a 2,600-year-old statuette of a smiling, long-haired youth has delighted Greek antiquities authorities. A British ancient art dealer returned the tiny statue yesterday, after realizing the piece had been stolen from the Aegean island of Samos during World War II. Greece was occupied by forces from Germany, Italy and Bulgaria during the war. James Ede, chairman of the London-based International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, bought the 11cm (4.5-inch) bronze figure from the widow of a Greek art collector who had lived in Switzerland. He turned it over to the Greek Embassy in London and accompanied the statue on its flight home. The piece will be put back on display at the Archaeological Museum of Samos. «I’m very proud to be able to return this little statuette to this museum,» Ede said at a ceremony in Athens. Culture Ministry officials, seeking to recover other objects, said the return set an important precedent. «What you have done is fantastic. Thank you very, very much,» said Alternate Culture Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia, who refused to handle the statue for fear of damaging it. Greece has sought for years to recover other objects, namely a series of statues and fragments removed from the Parthenon in 1811 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and later sold to the British Museum. The museum has refused to return the objects – known as the Elgin Marbles – even on loan. «I can’t help but draw a comparison with the Parthenon Marbles,» said Palli-Petralia. «I hope your example will be followed by others, like the British Museum.» Greece argues the Elgin Marbles are an integral part of the 2,500-year-old Athens monument, but failed in a bid to have them on display here for the Olympics last summer. «I can’t comment on the wider issues of restitution but I think you can feel that my heart is in the right place,» Ede said. He said the tiny statue also carried a message for Iraq. Thousands of ancient items were stolen from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad and other sites following the US-led invasion in 2003. «I think the dispersal of our cultures helps us understand and love each other and is a good thing, but this must be a legal process,» Ede said. «We will continue to fight the illegal trade… With war, civil strife, and upheavals around the world – not least in Baghdad – the duty that we have will become greater and greater.» Before its return, the statue was valued at about 45,000 euros ($55,000).