Off-duty Carabinieri spot looted Roman statue in Brussels shop

A marble statue of a togate man that was stolen a decade ago has been returned to Italy after it was discovered in a Brussels antique store by off-duty officers from Italy’s Carabinieri Art Squad. They were in Brussels on a business trip and after work one day they went for a stroll through the Sablon neighborhood of the historic upper city which is known for its many antique shops. The headless Togatus statue in one of the stores caught their eyes. It bore the telltale damage of excavation tools, the kind of sloppy work done by looters eager to get their payday out of the ground quickly.

The officers didn’t enter the store, but did take a photograph from the street. When they got home, they looked up the statue in Leonardo, the Carabinieri’s database of stolen antiquities, their suspicions were confirmed. A statue matching their picture was on the list as having been stolen in November 2011 from the Villa Marini Dettina, an archaeological park outside of Rome.

The statue dates to the 1st century B.C. The toga has stylistic features typical of late Republican figures: it is ankle-length instead of floor-length, draped comparatively narrowly around the legs and has a short arm sling that positions the right hand at the chest. The right arm, bent at the elbow and confined in the draped sling with only the hand emerging is the uniform pose of Republican togate statues.

Togate statues and reliefs were widespread in the Imperial Rome, especially in funerary monuments. Only Roman citizens were allowed to wear the toga, and a boy’s first toga marked his entry into manhood, so they were a powerful iconographic representation of Roman identity, freedman status and manhood. Statues from the Republican era, togate or otherwise, are much more rare. This one, headless, significantly worn and with simple draping, is worth an estimated $120,000.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Rome alerted Belgian authorities, and the statue was seized as stolen property. The investigation has revealed what looks to be an antiquities trafficking operation, not just a single dirty deal made without asking any questions. An Italian businessman operating under a Spanish alias is alleged to have received the statue in Italy and arranged for its smuggling to Brussels. He has been referred for prosecution, charged with receiving stolen goods and illegal export.

The Togatus was repatriated to Italy in February and is back at the Villa Marini Dettina.

4 thoughts on “Off-duty Carabinieri spot looted Roman statue in Brussels shop

  1. I don’t get this. The statue was excavated by looters and yet the authorities have a picture of the statue on file. So it was looted, recovered and then looted again?

  2. I believe there was a *description* in the database that matched the photograph taken by the officer, not a photograph in the database.

  3. Unfortunately, there is not much information given on that “Villa Marini Dettina”, as an “archaeological park outside of Rome”. Seemingly, the Marini Dettina clan owned a villa, and for some unknown reason, there is an “archaeological site” (maybe another villa, this time an ancient one?).

    At the end of the day, however, it is indeed possible to “loot” what somebody else unearthed long before, and maybe has taken a picture of, in order to feed a database with, i.e. photograph *and* description, I suppose.

    PS: Maybe, you noticed in the picture from the Carabinieri squad the Buddha in the background and the head (of likewise a Buddha it seems), which gives room for yet another –more or less documented– headless statue elsewhere. 😮

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.