May 18, 2006

The Getty’s Greek artefact return proposal

Posted at 1:02 pm in Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

More details on the proposal by the Getty to return some disputed artefacts to Greece.
The issue of the return of these pieces was first raised ten years ago, but not much was done until Greece renewed its request last autumn. There are a number of other interesting aspects to the case – firstly the fact that Italy also has a claim on one of the pieces that Greece wants returned. Also, the Greek government has made no agreement to exempt the former curator Marion True from prosecution in Greece – something that presumably the Getty would have been pushing for as part of the agreement.
Perhaps the most positive thing is that the Getty can see the potential for future long term loans of artefacts from Greece & cooperation with Greece as a result of resolving these issues – something that has been proposed to the British Museum on various occasions, but that they seem unwilling to accept as an option.

New York Times

Getty Director to Seek Return of Antiquities to Greece
Published: May 17, 2006

ATHENS, May 16 — After four hours of talks here with the Greek culture minister, the director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles said Tuesday that he would press for the return of some of the Getty’s most prized ancient artifacts to Greece.

The speed of the negotiations between the Getty director, Michael Brand, and Culture Minister George Voulgarakis is something of a coup for the Greek government. Although Greece first laid claim to four ancient treasures in the Getty’s collection 10 years ago, arguing that they had been illegally removed from the country, the issue was largely dormant until last fall, when Greece renewed its demand.

After the talks, held at the Greek Culture Ministry, neither Mr. Brand nor Mr. Voulgarakis specified which artifacts the Getty would consider returning. Reading from a joint statement, Mr. Brand said simply that he would “recommend to the board of trustees of the museum the return of some of the claimed antiquities in the near future.”

“Talks are ongoing, and representatives will be appointed to seek resolution of the matter within the next two to three months,” he said.

Once the issue is settled, Mr. Brand said, the two sides expect a “fruitful cooperation” that “could include long-term loans” of artworks.

Greece is seeking the repatriation of a rare gold funerary wreath, a tombstone and a stone torso of a young woman, all acquired by the Getty in the 1990’s. It has also demanded a votive relief that J. Paul Getty, the museum’s founder, bought in 1955.

Asked whether he felt pressure to cede some artifacts to shore up the Getty’s reputation, Mr. Brand responded with a terse “No.”

Yet Vivi Vassilopoulou, head of antiquities at the Greek Culture Ministry, said of the objects yesterday, “Their Greek provenance is undisputable.”

“We made that very clear to Mr. Brand,” she said after the talks. “We showed him the hard evidence.”

George Gligoris, head of a special police unit that investigates antiquities smuggling, said the most incriminating evidence involved the gold wreath, purchased by the Getty’s former antiquities curator, Marion True, in 1993.

“Just last month we managed to trace the wreath’s sale from the Greek antiquities smuggler, who corresponded and sent pictures of the wreath to an antiquities collector in Europe,” Mr. Gligoris said. The wreath is on the cover of the Getty’s antiquities catalog and is displayed on the second floor of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, Calif., which reopened to the public in January as the home of the Getty’s antiquities holdings.

As for the stone torso sought by the Greeks, on view in the same gallery, Mr. Brand said in a recent interview that Italy had also laid claim to it.

In pursuing the return of the artifacts, Greece has been emboldened by Italy’s recent success in negotiating the return of 21 disputed antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. That agreement, signed in February, provides for long-term loans of archaeological treasures to the Met.

Mr. Brand’s announcement is not the first conciliatory move by the Getty toward an archaeological source country.

Ms. True is now on trial in Rome on charges of conspiring to import antiquities illegally unearthed in Italy. Days before the trial began last November, the Getty returned three artifacts claimed by Italy.

To step up pressure on the Getty, the Greek authorities have repeatedly raided a vacation villa owned by Ms. True on the island of Paros, saying ancient artifacts on her property were not registered with the government, as the law requires.

Her lawyers counter that the objects were already in the villa when she bought it in 1995, that she had alerted local officials to their presence, and that they had only nominal value.

Ms. Vassilopoulou said Ms. True would not be exempt from prosecution in Greece.

“That was not part of the agreement,” she said.

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