(NOTE: Originally posted June 21, 2012. Re-posted here for archival purposes.)

It remains to be seen if the Greek god of wine will be pleased with his return to Italy, given his history with Italian pirates. One of the myths surrounding Dionysos tells of a voyage he took on the Aegean islands when he was set upon by pirates from the Tyrrenhia region of Italy. They captured him with the intent of selling him into slavery, but the deity conjured up vines and creatures that he unleashed on the boat. When the pirates dived into the sea to escape the chaos, Dionysos turned them into dolphins.

I bring this up because Italy is in line to get back an ancient jug that was looted and smuggled to Ohio. And by whatever coincidence, the smuggled jug depicts the pirate/dolphin scene. Art dealer Gianfranco Becchina had sold the piece to Toledo Museum of Art using bogus paperwork in the 1980s, and he was later convicted in Italy (we last wrote about Gianfranco Becchina here ).

Below are excerpts from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement release about the jug’s pending repatriation:

Agreement paves way for artifact’s return to Italy
June 18, 2012

CLEVELAND – A rare Etruscan black-figure kalpis which has been traced back to 510 B.C. will be returned to the Italian government following an agreement between the United States and the Toledo Museum of Art. The arrangement comes after an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

The kalpis, a ceramic vessel used in ancient times for holding water, depicts a mythological scene of pirates being transformed into dolphins by Dionysos. It was smuggled out of Italy after an illegal excavation prior to 1981. It was then sold in 1982 to the Toledo Museum of Art by art dealers Gianfranco and Ursula Becchina, who had earlier purchased it from convicted art smuggler Giacomo Medici. The Becchinas misrepresented the true provenance of the vase to the museum by providing falsified documentation.

Following a January 2010 lead from HSI’s Rome attache, Cleveland-based HSI special agents launched an investigation into the true provenance of the artifact. Working closely with law enforcement officials in Italy, HSI special agents were able to definitively establish that the documentation provided to the Toledo Museum of Art was falsified and part of a larger scheme by the Becchinas to sell illegitimately obtained cultural property. Gianfranco Becchina was convicted in February 2011 of illicitly dealing in antiquities by a court in Rome. That conviction was appealed by Becchina and remains in the Italian court system.

According to court documents, the kalpis has been valued at more than $665,000.

“This agreement establishes the true provenance of the kalpis and reconnects this valuable artifact to its rightful cultural origin and history,” said Brian Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Michigan and Ohio. “We applaud the integrity of the Toledo Museum of Art for their willingness to ensure that this piece is repatriated to its home country.”

The kalpis will be formally repatriated in an official ceremony later this year with the Toledo Museum of Art, HSI, federal prosecutors and representatives from the Italian government.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 23 countries. (6.21.12)