Headless bronze statue said to depict Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius removed from Cleveland museum

A bronze statue supposedly depicting the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius has been removed from the Cleveland Museum of Art, ordered to be seized by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as part of an investigation into a Turkey-based smuggling ring.

The museum’s listing for the headless six-foot-four-inch statue labels it as “Draped Male Figure,” says it dates to 150-200 A.D., and lists the provenance of the piece as coming from Boston-based art dealer Charles Lipson. The sculpture, whose value is estimated at $20 million, had been at the museum since 1986.

The seizure, authorized by an Aug. 14 warrant, pertains to an “ongoing criminal investigation into a smuggling network involving antiquities looted from Turkey and trafficked through Manhattan,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office told the New York Times.

The statue was removed over two months ago, and the description online was changed to remove reference to Marcus Aurelius, famed as both a Roman emperor and the Stoic thinker who wrote “Meditations,” a collection of personal writings originally in Greek, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The statue will be transported to New York this month. Investigators indicated the piece is worth around $20 million in their seizure warrant, according to the New York Times.

The Turkish government contends that the statue was stolen and then smuggled out of the Roman archaeological site of Bubon in southwestern Turkey in the 1960s.

“I can confirm that significant new evidence has been developed proving that the Marcus Aurelius was stolen,” Zeynep Boz, head of the anti-smuggling unit in the heritage and museums subdivision of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, told the Plain Dealer.

Turkey had first raised a public claim to the piece in 2012.

“The enduring dispute surrounding this matter has kept him separated from his hometown,” Ms. Boz told the Associated Press, adding that the seizure “provides a strong sense of hope, long-awaited, for the rectification of a willing wrongdoing.”

Cleveland Museum of Art Chief Marketing Officer Todd Mesek told the Plain Dealer that the museum “takes provenance issues very seriously and reviews claims to objects in the collection carefully and responsibly. As a matter of policy, the CMA does not discuss publicly whether a claim has even been made.”

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