July 12, 2007

Italy gets serious over looted antiquities

Posted at 1:51 pm in Similar cases

In a new twist to the long running sage, Italy has issued an ultimatum to the Getty to return artefacts or face an “embargo”.

Time Magazine blogs

July 11, 2007 1:42
The Italian Stallion
Posted by Richard Lacayo

Things are getting serious here. Francesco Rutelli, the Italian culture minister who has been on the warpath over looted antiquities, abruptly issued an ultimatum yesterday to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Return everything we demand by the end of the month or Italy will impose “an embargo” on the Getty. Meaning “an end to cultural and scientific collaboration.” Meaning, presumably, an end to everything from scholarly exchanges to archeological digs.

If you’ve just joined this game in mid-play, here’s a quick summary of the action so far. Italy wants the Getty to return more than 40 ancient works. The Getty was prepared to agree to the return of 26, but that agreement fell through when Rutelli also demanded return of the so-called Getty Bronze. A Greek statue of a victorious athlete dating from around the third century B.C., it was fished out of international waters near Italy in 1964. It now happens to be one of the star attractions of the Getty Villa in Malibu, where it has its own gallery. The Getty insists that the Italian claim on the bronze boy is invalid, since it was found in international waters. The Italians counter that it was brought briefly onto Italian soil and illegally exported from there. I stopped by the Getty Villa a few months ago to pay it what I knew might be a farewell visit. It’s a piece worth fighting over.

Bad enough that the Getty already faces the possibility that it may have to return another sizeable work, a fifth century B.C. Greek statue, possibly of Aphrodite, that the Italians say was looted from Sicily. (And which is the centerpiece of another Getty gallery.) Though the Getty has already expressed its willingness to transfer title to the statue now, the museum has also embarked on a series of researches into the statue’s origins that it doesn’t expect to complete until November. Which is a lot later than the end of this month. And of course, Marion True, the Getty’s former curator of antiquities, is still endlessly on trial in Italy for her purported role in acquiring Italian treasures improperly.

The people at the Getty may have been taken by surprise by Rutelli’s outburst, but they continue to insist that they’re optimistic. About two weeks ago Rutelli and Michael Brand, the director of the Getty, exchanged letters that were described to me today by Ron Hartwig, a Getty spokesman, as “very cordial”.

“We are hopeful,” Hartwig said, “that with this communication channel now re-opened we can proceed towards an agreement.”

That may be. But there is still no date set for the next actual meeting between representatives of the Getty and the Italian culture ministry. And for now it sounds like there’s only kind of agreement Rutelli will settle for.

What’s the Italian for capitulation?

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