Italian Senate renews call for return of the ‘Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth’

L’Atleta di Fano/Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa

The Italian Senate’s Culture Commission has unanimously approved a resolution to renew the call for the return of the ‘Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth‘ currently in the possession of the Getty Foundation at its Villa in Malibu. The call has also been taken up by the mayor of Fano, Massimo Seri. Seri has been a dogged champion for the return of the Bronze, noting that Italian forfeiture decisions give Italy a right of recovery, and even trying unsuccessfully to make the Bronze a discussion at the Italian meeting of the G20 later this year.

The resolution by the Italian Senate Committee was according the the Art Neewspaper crafted by Senator Margherita Corrado. The resolution will involve streamlining the efforts to seek the return of contested objects of cultural heritage:

[T]o assign a smaller pool of district magistrates to restitution cases “to allow for greater specialisation”, favour the training of magistrates in cultural heritage law, and encourage universities to teach legal archaeology in relevant courses. Furthermore, the government will collaborate with the Rai public broadcasting service to raise general awareness among citizens about restitution through programming, the resolution states.

It is not clear how that streamlining will link up with the current framework created by the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the companion 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, or the various bilateral agreements currently in place. Specialized training and courses at University are a welcome step, but Italy already has world class legal experts at its Universities, so I look forward to learning more about what this new initiative will actually look like. And I’m most interested in the impact of an Italian Senate Committee resolution, and if it will unlock funding and substantial change. If so, it could be a most welcome development for the obligations Italy and other Nations have under International Cultural Heritage Law.

The Art Newspaper also reported on what may be a more impactful mechanism, which would be to shut the Getty out of future efforts. In 2020 an internal culture ministry communication absolutely foreclosed the facilitation of the stunning Torlonia marbles collection: “After the refusal of the Getty Museum to recognise the sentence of the Court of Cassation [. . .] the Ministry has limited relations with the American museum to projects that have already been initiated.”

The ancient greek Bronze, likely made between 300-100 BCE was most likely hauled up by Italian fishermen in the 1960s, on a vessel based in the fishing town of Fano on the Adriatic Coast. A full account of the likely journey of the Bronze can be found in the terrific investigative book on lots of the acquisitions by the Getty Foundation, Chasing Aphrodite by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. Italy has persistently asked for its return, and the Forfeiture ruling in Italy’s Court of Cassation gives Italy a domestic right to the return of the marbles.

The only hurdle then would be to have a compatible decision which would be enforced by American Courts. As I wrote in a 2013 Piece for Cardozo’s Arts and Entertainment Law Journal, United States Federal Law has such a mechanism, Italy simply needs to request its application.

James Imam, Italy Strengthens Case for Return of “Victorious Youth” Bronze from Getty Museum in Heritage Feud that Has Lasted Decades, The Art Newspaper, [] (last visited Jul. 21, 2021).

Lisippo: sindaco Fano, risoluzione Senato aiuta ritorno Italia – Marche, Agenzia ANSA, [] (last visited Jul. 21, 2021).

One thought on “Italian Senate renews call for return of the ‘Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth’”

  1. For a long time I have wondered why Greece seems never to put in a claim to these works which are mostly likely Greek in origin. As Roman historians have noted Romans plundered Greek cities for sculpture and other Greek art. This statue may well have originally been stolen from Greece. Why does Italy have any better right to it? Just because it was perhaps found in what are now Italian territorial waters? Attic vases in Etruscan tombs have little to do with Italy except to show the Etruscans had good taste in art.
    I know it is not perfect but the British law on finding antiquities in the UK seems to me a a much better model. Perhaps the Brits are more honest than Italians would be so it wouldn’t work in Italy?

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