The Greek Culture Ministry on Wednesday announced that it would seek the repatriation of a 2,700-year-old bronze horse statue from New York which it says was illegally exported from Greece, after a U.S. court rejected an auction house's bid to proceed with the sale of the artifact, Associated Press reported.
The ministry statement said the court's decision was of "enormous legal importance" and paves the way for the return of stolen antiquities to the places from which they were violently detached and stolen from.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said the outcome was a major victory in the fight against the illegal trade in antiquities. “The ministry will proceed with every legal process to repatriate the statuette, stressing that when stolen and illegally exported monuments are returned ... (the country of origin) regains a segment of its history,” Mendoni said.
The ministry said the New York court ruled that in disputes concerning artifacts up for auction in the United States, or sought by U.S. museums, the laws of the works' country of origin will be applicable. It is for this reason, the court rejected a bid by auction company Sotheby to proceed with the auction of the 14 centimeter (5.5 inch) tall work from the 8th century B.C. that was part of a private U.S. collection.
In May 2018, the horse figurine from the so-called Geometric period of ancient Greek art (a type highly popular with collectors) was listed for auction in New York, with an estimated price of $150,000-$250,000. It is worth noting that in the description, the auction house characterises the figurine as "Greek".
Greek officials wrote to the auction house asking for it to be withdrawn and repatriated, arguing that it was of Greek origin and had never been declared or granted an export license.
The ministry said that while Sotheby's did withdraw the statuette from auction, the house took legal action against Greece, seeking recognition that Greece had no rights to the work. It said Sotheby's won a first court case but Greece appealed, resulting in the decision published on Tuesday.
Following the decision, Sotheby's said its client was “reviewing next steps.”
“While we are disappointed with yesterday’s decision, it does not impact what is at the heart of this matter — there is, and remains, no evidence to support Greece’s claim to ownership of the bronze sculpture,” the auction house said in a statement.