First off: I am an employee of the Getty and every time I enter or leave my building, I see these two statues, trussed up in a conservation lab.
Nevertheless, I am NOT an official mouthpiece of the Getty and these are my own thoughts on the matter.
Moreover, I am an archaeologist and an Italian citizen, which makes my position even more complicated! 🙂
Although it might be easy to be very cynical and suspicious of the Getty’s involvement in the conservation of these statues, given the Museum’s appalling past practices, I hope that people come to realize that this is in fact a great gift to Italy. (The ‘collaboration agreement’ notwithstanding.)
The two bronzes have been the subject of some pretty terrible conservation practices in the past. I am not a conservator myself, but one of the Getty conservators gave me a tour of the shocking methods of restoration, etc. on the two statues. Neither of these works have been on display for at least ten years, as they both were languishing in Italian conservation labs, partway through various phases of restoration work. (One, if not both of the bronzes were in Florence, far from their home in Pompeii.)
The Getty is treating these two statues with state-of-the-art methods and materials of conservation, practices that are unfortunately out of reach for most Italian (European, even) labs.
These two works of ancient Roman sculpture–while not of tremendously high quality as far as ancient art goes–will be conserved for generations because of Getty’s interventions. All at no cost to Italy at all. The statues will be displayed here after their conservation for a period of a couple of months, and then returned to Italy in a state better than when they left their homeland.
As far as I know, none of the other American museums previously under fire for their illegal/immoral acquisition practices (e.g. the Met, the MFA) have offered this kind of service to the Italians. Those agreements seem to be simply traditional loans rather than including the costly, time-consuming, but ultimately invaluable work of conservation.
Questions or Comments? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org