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Finally, one of the world’s finest – and most mysterious – ancient statue collections is unveiled

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“An immense treasure of erudition and art, amassed in silence over the course of many, many years” is how archaeologist Pietro Ercole Visconti described, in 1881, what today is referred to as the collection of collections: the Torlonia Marbles. For 400 years they have been enjoyed by a select few, behind closed doors. Until now. 

An impressive body of 620 ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, the Torlonia Marbles are statues, sarcophagi, bas-reliefs and busts in marble, bronze and alabaster portraying a rich array of mythical figures, gods and goddesses, and powerful Roman emperors. The influential Torlonias – who administered the Vatican’s finances – acquired existing collections from other aristocratic families in financial straits, and discovered additional marbles excavating the family’s own land. Theirs became one of the world’s most private of collections: it was only known to scholars through a 19th-century catalogue, and remained mostly unseen by the public, with the exception of visitors accepted by special appointment at the Torlonias’ private museum in Trastevere. But after the second world war, the artworks risked falling into oblivion.

Historically, the collection was one of the world’s most private
Historically, the collection was one of the world’s most private © Fondazione Torlonia

Seventy years later, delayed but not derailed by Covid-19, The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces is on show at Rome’s Palazzo Caffarelli, with 96 sculptures selected and co-curated by archeologists Salvatore Settis and Carlo Gasparri. Standout pieces, dating from the fifth century BC to the fourth century AD, include the imposing bust of an old man from Otricoli, likenesses of the Greek hero Meleagros and the goddess Hestia, as well as a striking representation in polished black marble and alabaster of Isis, the Egyptian afterlife goddess whose cult spread throughout the Greek and Roman world. 

Palazzo Caffarelli has been redesigned as part of the Capitoline Museums group
Palazzo Caffarelli has been redesigned as part of the Capitoline Museums group © Fondazione Torlonia

Other exhibits offer insights into historical interventions, such as the restoration of a resting goat sculpture by renowned Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, or traces of the original pigments (blue for the sea, red for the lighthouse and yellow on the frame) from the bas-relief of Porto, which had been partly cleaned off in the 19th century, but which were later discovered by conservator Anna Maria Carruba.

The exhibition unveils 96 sculptures dating from the fifth century BC to the fourth century AD
The exhibition unveils 96 sculptures dating from the fifth century BC to the fourth century AD © Fondazione Torlonia

The exhibition, sponsored by Bulgari, also sees the inauguration of Palazzo Caffarelli as a new artistic venue in the Capitoline Museums group, following a redesign by David Chipperfield Architects. This should – travel permitting – be the first stop of an itinerant exhibition across Europe and the United States before the statues are permanently put on view at the new Torlonia museum, which is yet to open. 

The Torlonia Marbles: Collecting Masterpieces is at Palazzo Caffarelli, Rome until 29 June 2021; museicapitolini.org 



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EU and US set to end Airbus-Boeing trade dispute after 17 years

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The EU and US are poised to resolve a 17-year dispute over aircraft subsidies, lifting the threat of billions of dollars in punitive tariffs on their economies in a boost to transatlantic relations. 

Diplomats and officials confirmed on Monday night that two days of intensive negotiations in Brussels had left the EU and the Biden administration with a draft deal on subsidy rules for Airbus and Boeing. The breakthrough is set to be finalised on Tuesday at US president Joe Biden’s first EU-US summit meeting in Brussels.

“I am very positive that we will find an agreement on the Airbus-Boeing issue today, in our conversation with our American friends,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said on Tuesday morning. “I am very positive and convinced that we will deliver together today.”

People close to the talks said the governments of Airbus’s three home countries in the EU — Germany, France, and Spain — were being consulted on the draft deal ahead of it being confirmed on Tuesday. 

The deal will take the form of a five-year accord to suspend punitive tariffs linked to the disagreement, coupled with the creation of a working group and ministerial dialogue on subsidy limits, according to people close to the talks.

The intention is that this will ensure the disagreement never re-emerges, including for new aircraft models.

The breakthrough will lift a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the airline sector, while removing the threat that EU and US consumer goods could again be hit with punitive tariffs because of the dispute. 

Those duties — on a wide range of products, from French wine to US spirits and sugarcane molasses — were suspended after the EU and US agreed in March to lift them for four months and to start negotiations on a solution. 


$7.5bn


Extra tariffs imposed by the US on European goods in October 2019

The Airbus-Boeing dispute is one of the longest running battles in the history of the World Trade Organization — a disagreement both sides have acknowledged they could increasingly ill-afford as they seek to forge closer co-operation in dealing with China’s model of state capitalism. 

EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis held talks with US trade representative Katherine Tai and commerce secretary Gina Raimondo in the days leading up the summit as the sides strove to get an agreement over the line. 

Tai’s office declined to comment.

Companies on both sides of the Atlantic have long called for a solution. The matter took on greater urgency after the US targeted European exports worth $7.5bn with extra tariffs in October 2019, while the EU imposed additional duties on $4bn of US exports last year. Both sets of measures were in line with WTO rulings in favour of each side.

But both the US and EU have been found over the years to have failed to properly implement WTO panel rulings on illegal subsidies for their aircraft manufacturing champions.

EU and US trade officials emphasised the complexity of the dispute, with each side taking issue with the other’s claim to have complied with WTO decisions. The nature of subsidies on each side of the Atlantic is also very different, with EU officials pointing to sizeable US defence contracts as one example. 

The end of the Airbus-Boeing dispute would remove one important irritant in trade relations, but others remain. 

Brussels last month held back from increasing tariffs on US goods as a goodwill gesture in a disagreement over Trump-era tariffs on European steel and aluminium. 

The two economies are also yet to fully bury their differences over digital taxes, with the issue now tied up with broader international talks. 

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Nato warns China’s military ambitions threaten international order

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Nato leaders have warned that China poses “systemic challenges” to the rules-based international order, in a sign of growing western unease over Beijing’s military ambitions.

Members of the transatlantic alliance convening in Brussels on Monday cited activities such as disinformation, Chinese military co-operation with Russia and the rapid expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal as part of the threat, according to a Nato communiqué.

The strength of the statement shows how far relations between the west and Beijing have deteriorated in the 18 months since Nato countries last met. Then they had issued a cautious statement about the “opportunities and challenges” presented by China.

The tougher language at US president Joe Biden’s first Nato summit comes as members of the 72-year-old cold war-era military pact vowed to widen co-operation in new theatres of conflict from cyber space to outer space. The Nato communiqué followed a tougher line from the weekend’s G7 meeting, when the club of rich democracies criticised China over human rights, trade and a lack of transparency over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, insisted Beijing was “not an adversary” but said the alliance needed to “engage with China to defend our security interests”.

“There is a strong convergence of views among allies,” he said, adding that Nato was primarily concerned about Beijing’s activities in the group’s Euro-Atlantic sphere of operation. “China’s growing influence and international policies present challenges to alliance security.”

China’s “stated ambitions and assertive behaviour” posed “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security”, said the summit communiqué, approved by the leaders of the 30 Nato member states.

“We call on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power.”

The communiqué pointed to China’s “coercive policies”, its accumulation of nuclear warheads and sophisticated delivery systems, and its participation in Russian military exercises in Atlantic region waters. Another trend troubling Nato allies is the involvement of Chinese companies in critical infrastructure in Europe, such as ports and via telecommunications company Huawei.

Nato said it would aim for “constructive dialogue” with Beijing “where possible”, including on climate change, in a sign of more nuanced views held by some of the alliance’s members.

The Nato broadside reflects an attempt by the Biden administration to use his first European trip to mobilise allies to push back against China.

Beijing hit back at criticism by the G7 club of rich democracies this weekend, accusing the group of “sinister intentions” and “artificially creating confrontation and friction”.

The Nato leaders also pressed ahead with efforts to modernise a grouping originally set up as bulwark to the Soviet Union. Nato is now pulling back from an era of “expeditionary” international missions, with its forces preparing to leave Afghanistan along with US troops after almost two decades.

The Nato heads of state and government approved a cyber defence strategy and extended existing powers to invoke the alliance’s “Article 5” principle of collective defence, in cases of co-ordinated cyber attacks.

“[This] will upgrade the defence, political and intelligence dimensions of cyber across the alliance,” Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, said before the meeting.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson had also called for more investment in cyber defences in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, when hostile states were accused of carrying out cyber attacks on allies’ health systems.

Nato leaders also pushed through measures to strengthen their collective response to attacks on satellites, and to build capabilities in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence. Members of the alliance have become increasingly preoccupied with potential military uses of AI and with the growing activities of China and Russia in outer space.

As well as confronting external threats, Nato faces some chronic internal divisions, notably between Turkey and some member states such as France in the eastern Mediterranean.

Additional reporting by Helen Warrell in London



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Biden says he is open to exchange of cybercriminals with Putin

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US president Joe Biden said he was open to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s proposal to hand over cybercriminals to the US if Washington did the same for Moscow, just days before the two leaders meet for a summit in Geneva.

Biden and Putin will sit down in Switzerland on Wednesday for their first face-to-face meeting since the former was sworn in as US president. Both leaders said at the weekend that relations between their two countries were at a low point, but Biden’s latest comments suggested there could be room for co-operation.

Speaking at the conclusion of a meeting of G7 leaders in the UK on Sunday, Biden told reporters he was receptive to Putin’s suggestion of reciprocal extradition of cybercriminals responsible for disruptive ransomware attacks.

Earlier on Sunday, Russian state TV aired an interview with Putin in which the Russian president said that Moscow and Washington must “assume equal commitments”.

“Russia will naturally do that but only if the other side — in this case the United States — agrees to the same and will also extradite corresponding criminals to the Russian Federation.”

Asked about Putin’s comments, Biden said: “Yes, I am open to, if there are crimes committed against Russia, that in fact are people committing those crimes are being harboured in the United States, I am committed to holding them accountable.”

“I was told as I was flying here, that [Putin] said that,” Biden added. “I think that is potentially a good sign of progress.”

An increasing number of audacious ransomware attacks has paralysed companies in recent weeks. These have included the disruption of the Colonial Pipeline, which provides petroleum supplies for much of the US east coast, as well as operations at JBS, the Brazilian meat processing company. The White House has said it believes both attacks originated in Russia.

Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, later clarified that Biden had not signed up to a “prisoner swap”.

“What he was saying was that if Vladimir Putin wants to come and say I am prepared to make sure that cyber criminals are held accountable, Joe Biden is perfectly willing to show up and say cyber criminals can be held accountable in America, because they already are. That is what we do,” Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One en route to the Nato summit in Brussels, the second leg of Biden’s first foreign tour as president.

“This is not about exchanges or swaps or anything like that.”

Putin told NBC News in an interview that aired on Friday that relations between the US and Russia were at their “lowest point in recent years”. Biden on Sunday said that he agreed with the characterisation, but also pointed out areas where he believed the two countries could work together.

The White House confirmed on Saturday that Biden would hold a solo press conference following the summit with Putin, rather than share a stage as his predecessor Donald Trump did with the Russian president in Helsinki in 2018.

Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One in Belgium on Sunday for a Nato summit
Joe Biden disembarks from Air Force One in Belgium on Sunday for a Nato summit © Benoit Doppagne/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other,” Biden said. “It is about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship.”

He added: “Russia has engaged in activities which we believe are contrary to international norms. But they have also bitten off some real problems they are going to have trouble chewing on. For example, the rebuilding of Syria, of Libya.”

“I am hopeful that we can find an accommodation that can save the lives of people in, for example, Libya.”



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