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Antique idols to be returned to temple in India

News   •   Sep 16, 2020 15:45 BST

[The three bronze sculptures]

Three bronze sculptures are being returned to a temple in the Tanjavur District in India after they were illegally taken more than 40 years ago. 

Four bronzes were stolen from the temple in 1978. Although the thieves were identified at the time and convicted in India, the stolen idols were not recovered and their whereabouts were unknown. 

In 2019, the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit were alerted by the Indian High Commission that one of the bronze sculptures had been offered for sale by a UK based dealer. 

The Art and Antiques Unit made contact with the dealer and presented the evidence that the sculpture was a match for the stolen one. They established he was a good faith purchaser and hadn’t committed any criminal offences. 

Once the dealer was satisfied that the sculpture was indeed a match, he voluntarily disclaimed the sculpture so that it could be returned to India. He also identified two additional sculptures from the set and volunteered to return them.

Detective Chief Inspector Tim Wright, of Central Specialist Crime, said: “The Met’s Art and Antiques Unit are proud to have been involved in the return of these idols to India. Not only are they beautiful and historically significant, they are of course of religious importance so it’s particularly gratifying that they are to be returned to the temple from which they were taken.

“These three bronzes haven’t been seized by the police, but have been voluntarily disclaimed by the UK owner. Once he was aware that they had been stolen, he immediately recognised that they should return to India.”