The Getty Museum has today announced it will bring together a panel to study this statue, probably of Aphrodite, known as the “Cult Statue of a Goddess”. Last November, Michael Brand announced the Getty would transfer full title of the statue to Italy. He said the Getty would try to return the statue within 12 months. The Italian Ministry of Culture has demanded other objects though, including the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” which I’ve discussed here many times.
The experts have expertise in archeology, pollen analysis, stone analysis, and art history. University of Virginia Professor in Art History Malcolm Bell III has signed on to the workshop. He has been critical of the negative impact the antiquities market has had on archaeological context in the past. You can read a 2005 article he wrote here at the Museum Security Network. In it he said this statue “is an extremely rare example of the sort of cult statue that once stood within a Greek temple. While, as some have asserted, this remarkable work may come from Morgantina (a site in Sicily where I serve as co-director of excavations), no proof of its origin is known, and its subject is just as uncertain. The market destroyed the evidence.”
Both the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Sicilian Regional Minister of Culture and Environmental Heritage have been invited to attend as well. The demand for this kind of statue motivated those who illicitly excavated and exported this work from its source nation. This workshop aims to study the statue, with the presumed goal of finding the findspot or provenience of this statue.
Scientific study is of course welcome, and perhaps these experts will be able to look at the soil and other residue removed from the statue when it was cleaned and learn a lot about it. However, if the market only dealt in licit antiquities, chances are we would know a great deal more about this statue. Many have criticized the Getty’s aggressive antiquities-buying in the past, as the large sums of money they were willing to pay for these objects helped to fuel the illicit market.
The workshop is set to take place in May, and the findings will be peer-reviewed and then published.
What will the impact of this workshop be? The Getty has already agreed to return the statue, and the Italian Culture Ministry has insisted more objects should be returned. I am not sure what scientific data can be gleaned from the statue and the concretions at this point. I suspect it will not be conclusive, and will perhaps point to a number of findspots.
Dr. Brand says of the panel “the questions and allegations surrounding the statue’s origins are complex and often contradictory. Our role as responsible stewards demands that we examine these questions in greater detail…We look forward to the opportunity to work with our international colleagues to shed more light on this subject.” I hope both the Getty and Italy are able to work together to reach an effective compromise on this and the other works in the Getty collection.
Italians are very proud of their ancient history and rightly so. These disputes implicate national and cultural feelings. A productive dialogue would seem to be a better solution to this problem than a lot of the rhetoric which seems to fly back and forth in the press by both sides.
If the study is able to show the statue originated in another nation, like present-day Turkey, if the Getty will decide against returning the statue to Italy. The Getty’s message to Italy seems clear, if you aren’t willing to negotiate on these objects, we will look at them ourselves and determine where they should belong. From the legal and policy perspective, it would be much more helpful if the Getty clearly outlined the process an object goes through before it is repatriated. What kind of calculus is involved in deciding to repatriate? It seems that in the Italian case, the Culture Ministry has been extremely vocal and forced the Getty’s hand in recent years.
Lee Rosenbaum over at Culturgrrl has a post on the same topic as well.