Precious stolen jade returns to Harvard museum

CAMBRIDGE — For 35 years, the 18th-century Chinese jade was missing, stolen out of a display case at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum. On Tuesday, the precious artwork returned, the result of an investigation that crossed international borders to retrieve an object worth an estimated $1.5 million and bring it back to Cambridge.

Standing about a half-foot tall, the green jade censer, or incense burner, features a pair of carved dragon handles and a cover with a carved lion and cub.

For now, the piece, originally given to the museum in the 1940s, will remain in storage, to be studied by conservators and historians. But in the next few years, it will go on display for visitors.

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Harvard University Art Museums director Tom Lentz, who accepted the piece from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in a short ceremony at Harvard on Tuesday morning, hailed the work of investigators, who identified the piece when it was listed for auction in Hong Kong in 2009.

“It’s an important object and it’s been gone a long time,” he said. “When things like this happen, you hope they reappear, but oftentimes they don’t.”