My article on Italian Forfeiture of the Getty Bronze

My article “Transnational forfeiture of the Getty Bronze” examining the Italian efforts to forfeit the Getty Bronze will be appearing in Volume 32 of Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal (forthcoming, 2014) soon. Later in May the Italian Court of Cassation is expected to perhaps give a final ruling.

In the meantime here is my analysis of how Italy could successfully use its Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States to secure repatriation.

From the Introduction:

Italy has been engaged in an ongoing fifty-year struggle to recover an ancient Greek bronze. The “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” has a remarkable story. It was lost at sea in the Adriatic in antiquity; found by chance in international waters; smuggled into the Italian seaside village of Fano; hidden first in a bathtub, then a cabbage field; smuggled and hidden in Brazil; later conserved in Germany and London; and ultimately purchased by the Getty Museum only months after the death of the Trust’s namesake, J. Paul Getty. Getty refused to allow his museum to purchase the statue during his lifetime without a thorough and diligent inquiry into the title history of the Bronze, a step the trustees of the Getty did not take prior to acquisition of the Bronze.

The question is not whether the Bronze was illicit when the Getty trustees made the decision to acquire it. It most certainly was, and still is. The question now is whether the Getty will be able to continue to retain possession. In the press and in cultural property circles, the Bronze is considered nearly un-repatriatable given this convoluted history. But an Italian forfeiture action in Pesaro has quietly set in motion a means by which Italy might repatriate the Bronze through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. This transnational forfeiture marks the creation of a useful new tool in the struggle to repatriate looted and stolen cultural objects. And perhaps more importantly, the dispute signals a continuing trend reflecting the importance of domestic law in source nations in cultural heritage law.

2 thoughts on “My article on Italian Forfeiture of the Getty Bronze”

  1. I understand this current fervor of repatriating “national treasures”, but it seems to me the underlying premise is fallacious in some cases. The national authorities and their courts apply laws based on current political borders not based on cultural origins. The several objectives of current national laws among possible others include: to protect national cultural treasures, to discourage the illegal trade of antiquities and to discourage looting of cultural sites. The Euprhonios Krater was created in Athens during its classical period as was likely the Getty Bronze. If one accepts the Italian contention the the Euphronios was looted from an Etruscan tomb, its only cultural connection to modern Italy is the evidence of the Etruscan’s good taste. It is an Athenian artistic and cultural treasure. The Getty bronze was found in international waters according to most reports by Italian fishermen, but accounts posit it was stolen from Greece during Roman times. Again an (likely) Athenian artistic and cultural treasure.
    Repatriation of the Euphronios can be justified on discouraging looting and protecting cultural sites, but not on protectiong “national” treasures. Sending the Getty bronze to Italy has none of the laws’ rational behind it except perhaps to discourage the sale of antiquities. The Romans likely stole the statue or looted it after conquest. To me the appropriate thing to do here if the Getty decides to give up the bronze is to ship it to Athens. Then let the Italians sue Greece.

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