Skip to main content
Press Release

United States Seeks To Forfeit And Return A Roman Statue Stolen From The Villa Torlonia In 1983

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint against a Roman marble peplophoros statue (the “Torlonia Peplophoros”) stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983.  The Torlonia Peplophoros had been sold in Manhattan in 2001 after being unlawfully brought into the United States in the late 1990s.  The current owner of the Torlonia Peplophoros, having discovered that it was stolen, voluntarily turned it over the United States.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The Torlonia Peplophoros was stolen in a brazen theft more than 30 years ago, and we are proud to have recovered it so it can finally be returned to its rightful owners.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to recover and return stolen treasures no matter how long they have been missing.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said:  “Stolen artwork and culture items belong with their rightful owners no matter how much time has passed since the theft. The FBI is pleased to help with the return of the Torlonia Peplophoros to its rightful home in the Villa Torlonia museum in Rome.”

According to the allegations in the Civil Complaint unsealed today:

In 1797, Giovanni Torlonia, a famous Vatican banker in Rome, purchased what is now called the Villa Torlonia (the “Villa”) after inheriting the title of Marchese.  The Torlonia family owned the Villa until 1977, though it was used by Benito Mussolini as his personal residence from 1925 to 1943, and then occupied by the Allied High Command from 1944 to 1947.  After 1947, the Villa was abandoned and deteriorated until the Municipality of Rome purchased it from the Torlonia family in 1977. 

Since 1978, the Villa has been opened to the public and restored by the Municipality of Rome.  It contained various works of art and other significant cultural property, including the Torlonia Peplophoros, a statue depicting a woman wearing a body-length garment, known as a peplos (or peplum), that was common in ancient Greece.

During the night of November 11, 1983, and the following morning, an unknown number of thieves stole 15 statues and other items from the Villa.  The Torlonia Peplophoros was among the stolen statues.

In the late 1990s, the Torlonia Peplophoros was imported into the United States by the owner of a New York City art gallery (the “Gallery”).  In 2001, the Gallery sold the Torlonia Peplophoros to an individual residing in New York City (the “Buyer”) for approximately $75,000.

The Buyer became aware that the Torlonia Peplophoros was stolen when the Buyer attempted to offer it for sale through a New York City auction house, and voluntarily turned it over to the FBI in late 2015.

        *          *         *

Mr. Bharara thanked the FBI’s Art Crime Team for its outstanding work on this matter.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson is in charge of the case.

Updated February 25, 2016

Press Release Number: 16-043