June 23, 2006

Getty may return artefacts to Italy

Posted at 8:51 pm in Similar cases

In an important change from their original position on restitution issues, the Getty has agreed in principle to return a number of artefacts to Italy. What is particularly interesting about this news is the statement that the Italians have agreed to “provide loans of objects of comparable visual beauty and historical importance. “This is very similar to the terms that the Greeks have previously offered in exchange for the return of the Elgin Marbles. It is also noted that resolving their differences will facilitate much greater cooperation in future between the Getty & institutions in Italy.

New York Times

June 22, 2006
Getty Museum May Return ‘Masterpieces’ to Italy

ROME, June 21 — The J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles has agreed to return some “significant objects” to Italy from its collection of Etruscan and Roman art, including “several masterpieces,” the trust announced Wednesday in a joint statement with the Italian government.

Although few details were provided, the breakthrough seems to pave the way for a settlement to Italy’s claims to dozens of antiquities in the Getty Museum’s collection. Italy has long argued that those objects were looted from Italian soil in recent decades and sold to the Getty by unscrupulous dealers.

Neither side would say how many or which artifacts were being returned. In exchange for the antiquities, the two sides said, Italy is prepared to “provide loans of objects of comparable visual beauty and historical importance.”

As described so far, that trade-off seems roughly similar to one negotiated in February by Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which agreed to cede title to 21 objects in exchange for important loans.

The pact with the Getty emerged after three days of talks here between a museum delegation and officials at the Italian Culture Ministry. It is still subject to approval by the Getty’s trustees.

The joint statement said a final agreement would be drawn up “in early summer.” Two officials familiar with the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement is not finalized, said the Getty would soon call a special meeting of its trustees to review the proposed agreement.

Italian officials have been pressing the Getty to return more than 50 pieces that investigators here say were illegally dug up in Italy. These include such rarities as a marble statue of the goddess Aphrodite from the fifth century B.C.; a terra-cotta cup from the same period, by the Greek artist Euphronios; and a pair of marble griffins from the fourth century B.C.

Photographs of the griffins, shown lying in a car trunk encrusted with dirt and wrapped in crumpled newspaper, were displayed in a Rome courtroom last month during the trial of Marion True, the former curator of antiquities at the Getty. She is being jointly tried with the American dealer Robert Hecht on charges of conspiring to deal in looted artifacts. Both have declared their innocence.

The accord being negotiated by the museum and the Italian government is separate from their case and legally has no bearing on it.

The Getty has returned contested artifacts to Italy in the past. Before Ms. True’s trial began in November, the Getty relinquished three major pieces: a large 2,300-year-old vase by the Greek painter Asteas, a bronze candelabrum and an inscribed gravestone. In 1999 the museum returned an equally precious piece, a rare kylix, or drinking cup, depicting scenes from the Trojan War by Euphronios and his protégé Onesimos, and other objects.

But the tentative pact announced on Wednesday seemed to signal a desire by the Getty Museum to put the dispute with the Italian government behind it. The accord calls for “extensive future collaboration” between the two sides.

“It’s not just about the exchange of objects; it’s about the exchange and development of knowledge between a culturally rich county and a museum dedicated to the art and the culture of that country,” said Luis Li, a lawyer engaged by the Getty Trust to investigate a series of recent scandals at the institution and who attended the three days of talks in Rome. He declined to give specifics on the artifacts discussed.

One goal of the negotiations, he said, was to shift the discussion so that curators on one side of the ocean dealt directly with curators on the other rather than through lawyers and prosecutors. “That’s the collaboration we would like,” he said on Wednesday night.

In recent years Italy has been aggressively pursuing American museums to return contested objects. Apart from the landmark accord reached with the Met four months ago, negotiations are under way with the Princeton University Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Maurizio Fiorilli, a lawyer for the Italian government, confirmed that the Princeton and Boston museums were studying Italian claims to some of their artifacts and had shown “great openness” in “productive discussions.”

Thanks for Peter Durfee for alerting me to this story.

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