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DMA to Return Looted Mosaic to Turkey

Turkish Director General of Cultural Heritage and Museums O. Murat Suslu and DMA Director Maxwell Anderson sign the memorandum of understanding at the DMA.

Orpheus Taming Wild Animals, Dallas Museum of Art

UPDATE: Here is an updated version of our earlier story.

The Dallas Museum of Art announced this morning that it’s returning an art work it believes was looted from Turkey. It’s a story worthy of an Indiana Jones sequel.

The work is known as the Orpheus Mosaic and dates to the 2nd Century. It’s been in the DMA collection since 1999. The museum bought it at public auction and won’t say how much it paid.

But earlier this year, DMA director Maxwell Anderson stumbled upon an official Turkish cultural website.

“And on that website were extremely similar examples of Orpheus mosaics from the site of Edessa that had been looted starting in the 1950s. And although this particular work wasn’t illustrated, it was a very close cousin to another example.”

So Anderson decided to e-mail the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

“I simply approached the embassy to ask, ‘We have this, do you have information about it?’ And they provided that extremely damning photograph.”

The photograph that led to the DMA returning the work. Photo: Sanliurfa Prosecutor’s Office

That damning photograph shows the DMA’s mosaic at the archaeological site it was stolen from. The photo was actually taken by the looters so they could document their haul. And now it’s being used as evidence in a criminal prosecution.

Anderson knew he had to return the mosaic. Fast forward to Monday, when the museum held a ceremony to mark the repatriation. About a dozen Turkish dignitaries were on hand to see the work crated up and sent home.

Sabiha Al Khemir, the DMA’s newly appointed adviser for Islamic art, was at the ceremony.

“Giving back a mosaic that has been cherished, looked after and enjoyed by many visitors in a sense is a loss,” she said. “But there’s actually a lot to celebrate. Because this is establishing a vision of how museums should work.”

And that’s where the new Dallas Museum Exchange program comes in. It’s essentially a swap – the DMA lends its curatorial expertise and other countries lend their works of art.

This is the sixth work that the DMA is returning to its original country, and Anderson says more may be coming. You can see the repatriated works on the DMA’s website.