UVA museum embroiled in art scandal

The University of Virginia Art Museum holds in its collection 6th-century B.C. artifacts that Italy says are stolen, and a museum in Sicily claims they will be returned in 2008, according to the New York Times.

Two marble heads, three feet, and three hands– parts of what are called acroliths– were in the possession of Jackie Onassis' beau, Maurice Tempelsman, and the J. Paul Getty Museum before quietly coming to the University Art Museum five years ago.

According to Italy, the pieces were illegally excavated in the late 1970s from Morgantina, an ancient Greek settlement in Sicily, and the heads are believed to be the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. An acrolith originally sported a wooden torso with a stone head and extremities.

The Cavalier Daily reports that the pieces were anonymously donated to the university, with the condition they not be publicized nor the identity of the donor revealed.

"It's premature to say" whether the acroliths are going back to Sicily, says UVA counsel Richard Kast. "We have an agreement in place, and there are time constraints until the end of the year, pursuant to the deed of the gift."

If Demeter and Persephone go home, they won't be the first antiquities returned returned from Charlottesville to the Aidone museum. According to the Times, UVA recently returned a terra cotta roof ornament called an antefix in the shape of a leopard that was purchased two years ago at an auction of antiquarian Leo Mildenberg's collection.

The University Art Museum is not alone in finding contraband Sicilian art in its collection. The Times also reports that the Metropolitian Museum of Art in New York will return 16 pieces of purloined silver in 2010, and the J. Paul Getty Museum will send back a hotly contested statue of Aphrodite.