ROME The U.S. Cleveland Museum of Art agreed on Wednesday to return looted art to Italy, including an ancient vase and a 14th-century cross, as museums worldwide face pressure to ensure their collections were acquired legally.
The Cleveland said it would return 14 artifacts within three months. Among them are an Apulian Volute Krater vase from 33O BC and a rare gold processional cross from 1375, which was stolen from a Siena church and acquired by the museum in 1977.
Italy has already persuaded U.S. museums such as the Metropolitan in New York to return dozens of pieces.
Culture Minister Sandro Bondi said the agreement demonstrates the Italian government's continued "determination to recover artistic treasures that were exported illegally."
Italy has been successful in recovering ancient Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance treasures -- sometimes by threatening to sue and to deny reticent museums loans of works in Italian collections.
Italy dropped a legal case against the Getty Museum in California last year after the institution agreed to return 40 items Rome believed had been stolen.
Italy's approach has provoked international debate. Critics say large U.S. museums can often care for pieces better than institutions in the country of origin.
But Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland Museum, said in Rome he did not think museum collections would suffer.
"I don't think such agreements threaten ours or other museums in the world," Rub told Reuters. "They will largely remain intact as they were collected by legitimate means and long ago, in some cases before current patrimony laws existed."
"The question will be how we constitute or augment collections going forward. Museums like ours -- and we are not alone here -- will need to devise ways of sharing the cultural heritages of places and periods of history in ways different to the past," said the Cleveland Museum director.
"Loan agreements that don't necessarily mean ownership will be the key," said Rub.
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Catherine Bosley)