The ‘Getty Bronze’ forfeiture stalls badly in Italy

Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa
Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa

I’ve written a great deal here about the ongoing dispute between the Getty Museum and officials in Italy over this ancient Greek statue.

In the wake of a pair of regional court rulings in 2010 and 2012 in Pesaro, Italy there seemed a chance that Italy would secure a trans-Atlantic forfeiture of the athlete (which I considered in an article).

But now those Italian court orders have been ruled in violation of the European convention on human rights because the cases were not heard in open court. This should not come as a great surprise, as the Italian court of cassation remanded the case to an Italian constitutional court in 2014, and a favorable result seemed remote. And Italy is now left with an embarrassing and incomplete forfeiture effort, which was only ever going to be the first step of a legal strategy which would be given high marks for degree of difficulty. So this “Fano Athelete” as the Italians describe him will likely not be taking a trip to Italy any time soon.

At present the bronze is a part of the “Power and Pathos” exhibition currently on display at the National Gallery in Washington.

  1. EU law rejects Getty Lysippos restitution verdict, http://theartnewspaper.com/news/eu-law-rejects-getty-lysippos-restitution-verdict/ (last visited Dec 31, 2015).

On that funerary statue seized in the UK

HMRC seized this funerary statute because it was misdeclared
HMRC seized this funerary statute because it was misdeclared

Janet Ulph has given a helpful overview of the seizure by UK Customs of this funerary statue. The statue was seized after Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs said the statue was “misdeclared”. It was declared as a statue from Turkey, with an estimated value of $110,000. Yet HMRC alleged the statue originated from Cyrene, Libya and its value was closer to £1.5m.

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25 Objects Returned to Italy, 0 Arrests

A 6th-century BC Kalpis depicting Dionysos transforming pirates into dolphins

 

 

In a ceremony this week officials from the United States and Italy announced the return of 25 looted objects to Italy. The various press releases from the U.S. and Italian authorities have details on all the returns. But I want to highlight one object which fascinates:this 6th-century BC Kalpis, likely looted from near Vulci, which depicts how Dionysus dispatched some Tyrrhenian pirates. It was acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 1982, but was later connected by Italian authorities to Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. The vase was sold in 1982 for a mere $90,000. The history of the object given to the Toledo Museum was that it had been in the collection of a Swiss collector named Karl Haug, and had been in his family since 1935—predating Italy’s 1939 national ownership declaration. In June of 2012 Immigrations and Customes Enforcement agents “consctuctively seized” the vase, allowing it to remain in the possession of the Museum. This week’s ceremony marks the formal return of this and other objects with similar stories.

 

Elisabetta Povoledo reported for the NYT:

Inquiries were begun in the last decade or so in nine Homeland Security field offices, including New York City, Buffalo, Baltimore, Boston, Miami and San Diego, leading to the returns.

Gen. Mariano Mossa, commander of the T.C.P., said at the news conference that the value of the objects was difficult to gauge. But the quality and rarity of many of the artifacts made them irreplaceable, officials said.

Each artifact returned to Italy had its own story.

The three first-century B.C. fresco fragments depicting human figures, for example, were stolen on June 26, 1957, from the Culture Ministry offices at Pompeii. Tracked to a San Diego warehouse, they were taken by agents in September 2012 from the private collection of an unnamed “American magnate” before they could be sold at auction, Italian officials said.

The authorities later identified the frescoes as belonging to the Allen E. Paulson Trust, which forfeited them to the United States government, which then returned them to Italy.

This is very much in keeping with how these ancient works of art are dealt with. It’s almost exclusively an object-centered approach. These objects are returned while officials in both the United States and Italy are able to announce the hard work they are doing, but there are no new prosecutions.

Elisabetta Povoledo, 25 Looted Artifacts Return to Italy, The N.Y. Times, May 26, 2015.

 

The British Museum is loaning a Parthenon sculpture

The Ilissos sculpture, loaned to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
The Ilissos sculpture, loaned to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg

For the first time since the sculptures were removed from the Parthenon under the orders of Lord Elgin some 200 years ago, the British Museum has announced it is loaning a Parthenon sculpture. Specifically the Ilissos statue to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. This very short loan, which will last only until January 18th has caused a great deal of outrage and criticism amongst those who think the sculptures should be ultimately reunited in Athens.

Greeks in particularly have been angered, with the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras calling the loan a provocation: “The Parthenon and its sculptures were pillaged. We greeks identify with our history and culture. They cannot be torn apart, loaned, and ceded.”

And there is I think part of the problem for the Greeks. They have made compromise exceedingly difficult. I have argued before that justice requires the sculptures be reunited in Athens. But ownership and property law has limits that cannot resolve this dispute. So much time has passed between Elgin’s actions, and the actions of Ottoman officials, that definitively litigating those actions is difficult. Rather that criticizing this loan, perhaps Greeks, and those who think the sculptures belong in Athens should see this as a loosening of the British Museums’s grips on these sculptures, and may be a precedent upon which future loans could ultimately achieve the return of these objects to Athens, if not permanently, then at least on a temporary basis.

Prott on Australian museums and illicit art

The 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja)  returned by the National Gallery of Australia to India in 2014
The 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja) returned by the National Gallery of Australia to India in 2014

Lyndel Prott, Honorary Prof. of International Heritage Law at the University of Queensland has authored a timely Op-Ed for the Conversation. In it she argues the 1970 UNESCO Convention has a role to play in impeding the flow of illicit art. But wonders about its impact on the recent spate of illicit material revealed in Australian Museums:

In September the Australian Prime Minister personally returned a 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja) to the Prime Minister of India which had been bought by the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and was subsequently found to have been stolen from a temple in southern India.

In a country which has been a party to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property – 1970 since 1989, how did the AGSA, the NGA and the AGNSW find themselves in such egregious situations?

Despite the passage of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 which implements for Australia the provisions of the 1970 Convention, the holding institutions have not undertaken the effort that they should have over the last 25 years.

 

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James Cuno Still Critical of Repatriation

The Getty Villa in Malibu
The Getty Villa in Malibu

James Cuno, President of the Getty Trust, has authored a short essay revisiting his arguments against repatriation. Those familiar with his arguments will see many of the same kinds of arguments he has made in the past. Mainly he criticizes repatriation as an exercise in nationalism:

Such claims on the national identity of antiquities are at the root of many states’ cultural property laws, which in the last few decades have been used by governments to reclaim objects from museums and other collections abroad. Despite UNESCO’s declaration that “no culture is a hermetically sealed entity,” governments are increasingly making claims of ownership of cultural property on the basis of self-proclaimed and fixed state-based identities. Many use ancient cultural objects to affirm continuity with a glorious and powerful past as a way of burnishing their modern political image — Egypt with the Pharaonic era, Iran with ancient Persia, Italy with the Roman Empire. These arguments amount to protectionist claims on culture. Rather than acknowledge that culture is in a state of constant flux, modern governments present it as standing still, in order to use cultural objects to promote their own states’ national identities.

Though he acknowledges the looting and destruction that has taken place and this was the impetus for a number of returns from his current institution, he’s attempting it seems to hold a firm line against calls for repatriation which pre-date 1970. While he does obliquely criticize looting, he offers no other solution to the problem. How can we prevent site destruction and looting without national legislation and domestic initiatives (which he has called nationalistic)? That question is left largely unanswered. He does make calls for more Universal museums in nations of origin.

He ends with a call for exchange and cooperation:

For encyclopedic museums to fulfill their promise of cultural exchange, they should be established everywhere in the world where they do not now exist. And existing encyclopedic museums should aid in their development. Already, there are laudable examples of how great museums in wealthy countries can foster a more comprehensive kind of cosmopolitanism. The British Museum established a program in 2008 to promote partnerships with institutions in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In addition to loaning collections and exhibitions from British museums, it focused on training: in conservation, curating, and archiving. In all, some 29 countries were involved. The program was supported by the British government’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. But after three years, the British government cut the program’s funding. The partnerships continue on a smaller scale supported by grant funding, including from the Getty Foundation.

This process of exchange and cooperation should build trust among museums and national authorities. It will be a long, slow process, but if successful, it would lay the foundation for a greater understanding of the values represented by the encyclopedic museum: openness, tolerance, and inquiry about the world, along with the recognition that culture exists independent of nationalism.

Cuno, James. “Culture WarForeign Affairs, December 2014.

Updating the forfeiture of the Fano Athlete

Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa
Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa

Mike Boehm of the L.A. Times reports on the current status of the Fano Athlete/Getty Bronze dispute. A division of Italy’s High Court (Corta Suprema di Cassazione) is expected to weigh an appeal of an earlier forfeiture order this week. I’m quoted as the lone dissenting voice arguing the Bronze should be returned to Italy. I think a return is the just thing to do when you consider the violations of Italian patrimony laws which occurred when the Bronze was smuggled ashore, hidden in violation of Italian law, and then allegedly treated very badly before being smuggled to Brazil, then conserved in Europe before the Getty acquisition.

For a full discussion of my understanding of the history of the case and the reasons why I think Italy stands a good chance of having the Bronze returned soon, you can have a look at my forthcoming piece in volume 32 of the Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal.

Both Stephen Urice and Patty Gerstenblith seem to see the case differently:

“I’m baffled by this,” said Stephen Urice, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law who’s an expert on art law and cultural property law. “Even if you apply our ethical norms today, I don’t see a problem.”

Patty Gerstenblith, a leading advocate of protecting archaeological sites and sending looted art back to nations of origin, said that “Victorious Youth” shouldn’t be considered a looted work and needn’t be returned. Italy never had a legally valid ownership claim, she said, because the statue wasn’t found in Italian waters or on Italian soil, and it wasn’t made or owned by modern Italy’s Roman and Etruscan forebears.

Gerstenblith, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago and director of its Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law, said the fishermen who netted the statue did break Italian laws by hiding their find instead of reporting it to authorities. So did the original buyers who shipped “Victorious Youth” out of Italy without a proper export permit.

Although those illegalities raise ethical questions that might make a museum in 2014 steer clear of a purchase, Gerstenblith said, they have no bearing on the fishermen’s right to have owned and sold the bronze statue, or the Getty’s right to keep what it bought.

In any case, the forfeiture effort is persistent, and the Italian authorities seem inclined to use every tool at their disposal to help secure a return, including cultural diplomacy, mutual assistance treaties, and domestic Italian court proceedings.
Mike Boehm, The Getty’s “Victorious Youth” is subject of a custody fight, latimes.com (May 7, 2014), http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-getty-bronze-20140507-story.html.
Derek Fincham, Transnational Forfeiture of the “Getty” Bronze, 32 Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal (2014).