Italy Blinks

Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino report in today’s LA Times that Italy and the Getty have reopened discussions over 46 potentially illicit antiquities. New discussions are possible because it seems Italy has relented in its claim to the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth”. As I and others have argued, Italy’s claims to the bronze are weak: the statue was found by chance in the Adriatic, it was probably created in Greece, it has been in the Getty for 30 years, and Italy was unable to establish any wrongdoing during criminal proceedings in the 1960s.

As to a new criminal investigation:

A senior Italian official said the culture ministry decided that the fate of the statue should not be negotiated until a new criminal investigation into the statue’s discovery and export from Italy is complete. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the record while negotiations were ongoing.

The new investigation, being conducted by a regional magistrate, was requested several months ago by a local citizens group in Fano, hometown of the fishermen who found the statue, brought it ashore and hid it in a cabbage field before selling it to a local dealer.

But even its citizen sponsors admit the investigation is unlikely to uncover the full story of the artifact’s discovery and export from Italy. Nearly four decades have passed since the bronze athlete left Italy under mysterious circumstances, and many of the people involved have since died.

This is a welcome development, and allows both sides to engage in meaningful negotiations. In the past Italy has given loans of other objects in exchange for the return of contested works. Negotiations will likely be difficult though, as the Getty has 45 contested antiquities, and the criminal trial of Marion True overshadows much of the negotiation. It will be interesting to hear what Francesco Rutelli has to say about this development, as he has argued very strongly for some months that the Bronze must be returned.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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