Venetian Red in Rome: The “Restitution Room”
Editor’s Note: During the month of June, Venetian Red posts from Italy, as well as from San Francisco.
By LIZ HAGER
At the end of a long hallway in a wing of the Villa Giulia (Museo Nazionale Etrusco), sandwiched in between the Etruscan armament and jewelry displays, is a room brimming with Etruscan-era pieces repatriated from American museums. The large Euphronious’ s Krater from the Met is there, as are dozens of pieces from the Getty and objects from institutions like The Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Princeton University’s Art Museum.
Except for the subtle note on the art work labels, there is nothing that advertises this space as a “Restitution Room.” And yet, it’s pretty obvious that it was planned specifically to send a message (or two). Otherwise, it seems to me, MNE curators would have integrated each piece within its respective type in other sections of the museum. Suffice it to say, there is no organizing principle that binds these pieces together, save for their shared identity as recovered pieces.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I visited the “Restitution Room” only days after a new case had been filed in the Italian courts, this time against antiquities curator J. Michael Padgett of the Princeton University Art Museum. Readers will remember the recent trial in Rome of Getty director Marian True, who was charged with consorting with shady dealers to buy looted antiquities. Though five years old, the case has not yet been resolved. Nevertheless, Ms. True’s career has been completely tanked.
I still can’t decide exactly what Italian officials are trying to convey through the organization of this room. Is it a manifestation of Italian pride—a symbol that the government has been victorious over powerful American museums? Does it visually signify ultra-diligence on the part of the Italian government in protecting its people’s venerable culture? Or is it simply a well-aimed shot over the bow of the antiquities market, warning all of the folly of trading in illegally procured objects.
Whatever the true message of the “Restitution Room,” it certainly co-opted my thoughts long after I had left the Villa Giulia.