Priceless antiquities. Ruthless grave robbers. High-tech counterfeits. International smuggling routes that run from the necropolises of Tarquinia, Italy to the posh auction houses of London, England, from the seedy underbelly of the black market to world-renown museums.
Ripped from the case files of the Guardia di Finanza, stories like these will be told during “Treasures and Tales of Italy’s Guardia di Finanza Art Recovery Team,” a groundbreaking exhibition of priceless works of Etruscan and Greco-Roman art and craftsmanship, on display at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware from Oct. 3-Dec. 21.
Each ancient ceramic, mosaic and statue tells a story, not just of the time of its creation, but also of its theft and recovery by the indefatigable agents of the Gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico, the art recovery team inside the Guardia di Finanza. The Guardia di Finanza, with headquarters in Rome, is Italy’s national law enforcement agency tasked with fighting financial crime and recovering stolen art and artifacts.
This exhibit, making its only U.S. appearance in Delaware, comes on the heels of several successful shows of recovered art in Italy, most recently the “Capolavori dell’archeologia: Recuperi, ritrovamenti, confronti” (“Masterpieces of Archaeology: Recovery, Findings, Comparisons”) exhibition at the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome in 2013. “Treasures and Tales” marks the first time many of these pieces, reclaimed for Italy and now in the custody of the Guardia di Finanza, have been exhibited outside of their homeland after being recovered. Italian authorities estimate that Italy loses more than 5,000 pieces of art to illegal smuggling every year.
Highlights of this exhibition include “Hercules and Hydra,” one of only the few surviving neck-amphora attributed to Lysippides, famed Greek painter of the 6th century BC, whose art was traded throughout Italy for small fortunes at the time.
Lt. Col. Massimo Rossi, chief in command of the Guardia di Finanza’s art recovery team, will be in Wilmington for the opening of the exhibition in October.
“The masterpieces that will be shown in Wilmington were recovered in cooperation with other national police forces outside of Italy, or by foreign museum organizations that believed them to be legal at the time of their acquisition,” Rossi said. “Some of these works of art were “grave goods,” beautiful pieces buried alongside the dead in Magna Graecia, Etruria and Sannio (an area in southern Italy), but also from other lesser-known places in Italy.”
The exhibit will also include a few “master forgeries,” beautiful pieces of antiquity exposed as fakes by the Guardia di Finanza.
The exhibit is curated by Prof. Giuseppina Ghini, archeologist director of the Soprintendenza per I Beni Archeologici of Lazio, Italy since 1981. She is also the director of the Museo delle Navi Romane in Nemi and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Abbazia di S.Nilo in Grottaferrata.
The Grand Opera House will host this exhibit in the heart of downtown Wilmington. Wilmington’s oldest and most venerated performing space, The Grand has been a focal point for the arts in Delaware for more than 140 years. The historic 1200-seat Copeland Hall, with its intimate acoustics and beautiful Victorian decora- tion is complemented by the modern 300-seat baby grand theater. The two theaters feature more than 75 performances by national and international touring artists every year is home to three resident professional companies: First State Ballet Theatre, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and OperaDelaware. All together, The Grand plays host to more than 120,000 visitors each year.
“We are pleased to be the host for this intriguing exhibit of art from Italy,” said Steve Bailey, executive director of The Grand Opera House. “It’s fitting to have this amazing art from the Old World on display in one of the most beautiful buildings in our corner of the New World. We are further gratified by the opportunity to participate in this extensive partnership of arts groups, restaurants, corporations, and individuals that are working to make downtown Wilmington and Market Street a stronger cultural magnet for the entire region.”
“Treasures and Tales” runs from Oct. 3 through Dec. 21. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; noon-7 p.m. Wednesday; noon-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for unlimited entrance cost $15. Private showings and group tours are available by reservation. Tickets can be purchased at the door, online at TicketsatTheGrand.org or by phone at 302-652-5577 or 800-37-GRAND.
A limited number of pieces from the collection will also be on display at the Old College Gallery at the University of Delaware from Oct. 2 through Dec. 7. The Gallery is open from noon-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with additional evening hours until 8 p.m. on Thursday, and is closed on holidays and University breaks. For information on the exhibit at the University of Delaware, go to www.udel.edu/museums.
The exhibition is made possible through a collaboration between the Guardia di Finanza, the State of Delaware, the International Council of Delaware, University of Delaware Museums, DeBooks and Museater Alliance.