500-year-old bronze idol, stolen from India readies for its return journey, says Oxford University


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Oxford University has agreed to return a 500-year-old bronze idol of Saint Tirumankai Alvar, believed to be stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu, to India. The statue was acquired in 1967 from Sotheby’s auction house.

An independent researcher alerted the university to its origins in November last year. The Indian government formally requested the return of the bronze sculpture, which was found in the UK museum’s possession. The decision is now awaiting approval from the Charity Commission

The 60 cm-tall statue of Saint Tirumankai Alvar was acquired by the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford from Sotheby’s auction house in 1967 from the collection of a collector named Dr J R Belmont (1886-1981).

“On 11 March 2024, the Council of the University of Oxford supported a claim from the Indian High Commission for the return of a 16th-century bronze sculpture of Saint Tirumankai Alvar from the Ashmolean Museum. This decision will now be submitted to the Charity Commission for approval,” said a statement from the university’s Ashmolean Museum.

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