Trafficked Art: The Louvre Exhibits Ancient Statues Looted from Libya in 2011 – Al Marsad

Four marble statues of women, over 2,000 years old from the ancient Libyan city of Cyrene, are currently on display at the Louvre in Paris. The statues were smuggled out of Libya during the 2011 revolution by traffickers and confiscated by French customs.

(LIBYA, 28 May 2021) – The Libyan artefacts are being currently being exhibited at the Louvre in Paris as part of their exhibition named, “Ancient sculptures from Libya and Syria. Fight against the illicit traffic of cultural goods” and runs until 13 December 2021.

Four marble statues from Cyrene on display at the Louvre.

The marble busts of the four women are less than a meter tall and each with a majestic drape over their shoulders. According to Le Parisien, they are 2,000 years-old and watched over the dead for centuries at the necropolis of Cyrene, which was one of the largest ancient Greek cities in Libya, and indeed in the whole of North Africa.

According to the French publication, the four statues were stolen from Cyrene, or modern day Shahat in Libya, by traffickers during the aftermath of the 2011 revolution in the country, and made their way to France where it was successfully confiscated by French customs.

The Temple of Demeter, Cyrene/Shahat, Libya

It is not known whether the stolen statues were for a private collector or a gallery, as no further details were disclosed by the authorities. According to Ludovic Laugier, the curator of Greek sculptures at the Louvre and curator of this unprecedented exhibition against the traffic in antiquities, the “investigation is still ongoing.”

The current exhibition displays only four statues from Libya antiquity and two bas-reliefs from Syria—but it is significance but it is a first in France to highlight the issue of the trafficking of cultural artefacts. A 2016 law revised the heritage code and authorized the presentation to the public of cultural goods seized by customs, as long as the magistrate agrees.

Vincent Michel, the other curator of the exhibition, was amazed by the beauty of the four statues. Their price has been estimated between 350,000 and 450,000 euros. “But the goal is to show them so that they become unsaleable, like the Mona Lisa,” insists Vincent Michel.


According to UNESCO the trafficking of cultural artefacts is estimated at US$10 billion dollars per year. Therefore the fight against looting is a collective and critical enterprise, and requires coordinated effort from archeologists, museums, customs, central office for the fight against trafficking in cultural goods, justice, ministries of culture and foreign affairs and diplomatic missions.

The curators of this exhibition at the Louvre believe that the general public needs to be made aware of the illicit trafficking of cultural property. The QR codes already provide access to various “red lists”, accessible on the Internet, and it is important both for the general public and specialist collectors and galleries.


The exhibition at the Louvre closes on 13 December 13, and the busts will be kept in France until they are returned to Libya once the investigation is completed and the destinations secure.

The investigations are likely to take time. According to media, French customs returned in 2020 over 25,000 archaeological items to Morocco that had been seized in 2005 and 2006.

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom returned the statue of the Greek goddess Persephone to the Libyan, after it was seized by British authorities in 2011 at Heathrow airport.

UK Authorities Return Smuggled Greek Statue of Persephone to Libya

Also, in March this year, the head of a Roman era statue of Faustina the Younger, which was smuggled during WWII from the Apollonia Museum in Soussa in Libya, was returned by the Austrian Minister of Culture to the Libyan authorities.

PHOTOS | The Head of the Roman Statue of Faustina Returns to Libya After 75 Years