1,600 Objects Bound for Italy

A detail of a manuscript from 1745 was on display at a press conference at the Chicago FBI offices during a briefing on the the recently concluded investigation into the discovery of thousands of artifacts, antiquities, and books at a Berwyn residence.There were some terrific images released yesterday at the FBI press conference announcing the return of 1,600 objects found in John Sisto’s home when he died in 2007. He had amassed thousands of documents and objects, all stored in his Berwyn, Illinois home.

Of the 3,500 objects found in Sisto’s home when he died in 2007, the FBI has determined that 1,600 of them were stolen or illegally exported from Italy and must be returned. Despite the estimated value of the objects, perhaps as much as $10 million, there will be no prosecution in Illinois, though perhaps some Italian prosecutions may take place. The staggering fact is the owners of the nearly 2,000 other objects is unknown, and will be returned to the family.

Among the items to be returned are religious relics, manuscripts written by Mussolini, figurines from the 4th Century B.C., letters written by popes, and other objects.

In a Chicago Tribune piece by Margaret Ramirez and Robert Mitchum, they note these objects had become a point of contention with Sisto’s son:

In the mid-2000s, Joseph Sisto learned that many of the items were likely illegal and confronted his father, telling them that the artifacts should be returned to Italy.

But his father refused, provoking a family dispute that separated him from his father during the final years of his life, he said.

When his father died, Joseph Sisto asked Berwyn police to enter the home with him, knowing that the thousands of artifacts would need to be investigated by authorities.

Berwyn Police Chief William Kushner recalled the incredible sight when he first entered the home in 2007. Kushner said the house was filled with hundreds of boxes, many piled 5 feet high and all labeled in Italian. Upstairs and in the attic, precious paintings covered the walls, protected by large sheets of cardboard refrigerator boxes. Immediately, Kushner knew he had to call the FBI art crimes unit. He ordered his officers not to touch anything.

The FBI believes many of the objects were taken from the Bari region of Italy, where John Sisto was born. Paul Barford wonders if perhaps this may become an increasing trend if “many children of today’s no-questions-asked accumulators of archaeological artefacts (not to mention dealers) will be faced with similar dilemmas.” One can’t help but see parallels with the sale of William Kingsland’s art collection, who died in 2006, and it was revealed that many of the works found in his home had been stolen.

One wonders as well how he came to acquire these objects; as surely Sisto didn’t steal all of these objects himself. Why was it possible for him to acquire them. The FBI speculates that the objects may have been shipped to the U.S. between 1960 and 1982 by Sisto’s father, who was still living in Italy. Perhaps the objects were taken from private collections or elsewhere.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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