Asking (politely) for the Fano Athlete

The Bronze Athlete

Governor Gian Mario Spacca, president of the region of Marche where this bronze athelete was brought ashore in 1964, visited Los Angeles to seek the return of the object. Catherine Sezgin reports on the visit for ARCA here and here.

The context for the visit is an ongoing seizure action in Italy which the Getty is appealing. Even if the appeals process runs its course, and the object is ordered returned, it appears unlikely that a U.S. court will enforce the seizure order.

And so into that context comes a friendly visit from Spacca saying, as reported by Jason Felch in the L.A. Times:

“We are not here to declare war on the Getty,” Spacca said in a statement to The Times. “We are here to resolve the dispute in a way that will benefit the museum, the people of Italy, and most important, art lovers around the world.” 

Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig described the meeting as “a good discussion” but said serious talks would be possible only after the court case ends and would need to involve the Italian Ministry of Culture. 

“We were clear at the start of our conversation that the statue of a “Victorious Youth,” known as the “Getty Bronze,” was not a matter for discussion since legal issues regarding this object are ongoing in Italy.”

  1. Jason Felch, Antiquities: Italian official seeks return of ‘Getty Bronze’, L.A. Times, March 27, 2011,,0,7566636.story (last visited Mar 29, 2011).
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"The Bulldog" Makes a Case for the Return of the "Getty Bronze"

The “Getty Bronze”

Last weekend at the 2010 ARCA conference, Italian state attorney Maurizio Fiorilli offered his thoughts on the ongoing dispute between Italy and the Getty over the disposition of this  ancient Greek bronze, often called the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth”.  Fiorilli has been nicknamed “Il Bulldog” by the Italian press for his quiet persistence in securing the return of illegally exported and illegally excavated cultural objects from a number of American museums, including a number of objects acquired in recent decades from the Getty. 

One object which the Italians did not secure was this bronze, which is the subject of a seizure proceeding in Italy.  I’ve posted below four videos which find Fiorilli making a reasoned legal case for the return of the bronze.  An Italian court in February ordered the return of this object, however difficulty will arise when Italy attempts to convince a U.S. court to enforce the order.  The Getty has appealed the Italian decision, but the legal proceedings are important not only for the direct result, but for the shift in public perception which the Getty will have to navigate.  Surely the Getty does not relish the idea of a long protracted public debate over the disposition of this bronze.  The story of this bronze presents an interesting case.  Though it was certainly illegally exported from Italy, it cannot be considered a “looted” object in my view. 

The bronze was found by Italian fishermen somewhere in the Adriatic in the 1960’s.  I wrote a long summary of the story of the bronze back in 2007.  To summarize, the statue was found by fisherman in the Adriatic in 1964, smuggled out of Italy, and eventually purchased by the Getty in 1977.  The bronze was discussed a great deal in the very public battle between Italy and the Getty over other looted objects in recent years.  Yet there was a lack of direct evidence linking the Getty to any wrongdoing in the acquisition.  Criminal proceedings were brought against some of the fishermen and handlers of the statue in Italy in 1968.  Left with little concrete evidence to secure a conviction, the fishermen were acquitted.  Yet as Fiorilli argued, these proceedings were made difficult because the actual statue had been smuggled abroad, and Italian prosecutors were unable to meet their burden. 

I’ll let Fiorilli make his case in the videos below, and apologies for the low sound levels.  Fiorilli spoke beautiful English, but chose to make his case in Italian, with the help of a translator. 

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Italian Seizures, the Bronze Athelete, and the Getty

The Getty has decided to appeal the February decision in which an Italian court ordered the seizure of this statue, Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth.  An Italian appeals court judged ordered the work returned to Italy.  This was a new legal approach as nations as far as I’m aware have not attempted to bring forfeiture proceedings domestically, with an expectation that a foreign government or court would uphold the order.  Perhaps the Italian courts could seize other assets the Getty has in Italy in lieu of recovery, but my initial conclusions are shared by Patty Gerstenblith in Martha Lufkin’s excellent summary of the current disposition of the dispute.  Gerstenblith notes two problems.  First, illegal export does not give Italy a tenable claim in U.S. courts.  It may in conjunction with a law like the Cultural Property Implementation Act and bilateral agreements, but those were all enacted after the bronze was brought to California.  Second, an awful lot of time has elapsed, and it is likely that an American court will take a dim view of the length of time Italy has taken before this action.  Indeed, charges were brought in Italy against the fisherman who brought the bronze up in their nets in the 1960’s, but the defendants were acquitted. 

There is an extralegal dimension to the appeal as well, in that Italy continues to put pressure on the Getty, and its means of acquisition of the statue. 

We may question the Getty’s acquisition of the bronze, question where it currently belongs, and even debate the merits of restitution of these objects.  However, there is no evidence that this bronze was “looted” in the same way the Euphronios Krater was for example.  All reports I’m aware of indicate the fishermen fortuitously brought this up in the Adriatic, in international waters, in 1964.  They may have later passed it on to others who smuggled it out of the country, but this is not a looted object.

For noteworthy previous posts on the bronze, see here.

  1. Martha Lufkin, Greek bronze will stay in the Getty Villa, The Art Newspaper, April 14, 2010.
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Italian Appeals Court Orders the Return of the Getty Bronze

A surprising ruling today by Judge Mussoni in the case involving this statute, known as “The Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” currently on display at the Getty Villa in Malibu.  I’ve looked at the merits of Italy’s repatriation case in some detail before, here and here.  Essentially, this Bronze was found in the Adriatic in the 1960’s, and Italian fishermen and others smuggled the work abroad.  It was eventually purchased by the Getty.  Criminal proceedings were brought against some of the smugglers decades ago, but they were never convicted.  

The present case was brought by the Italian government, seeking a forfeiture of the statue.  The Getty has indicated it will appeal; but the confiscation order will take effect immediately according to Maurizio Fiorilli, an attorney representing the Italian government.  There are a few hurdles to be crossed before the Getty has to pack up the Bronze and ship it to Italy however.

I haven’t had time to research the legal specifics yet, but I would like to offer some tentative observations.  First, I do not see how the Italian court has jurisdiction over the statue; and getting it returned will require the cooperation of the State Department or Department of Justice.  Second, this case presents a unique situation.  I’m not aware of any case in which a nation of origin brings suit in a domestic court to seek the return of an object from abroad.  If the Italians are successful in securing the return of the bronze, it would rewrite the law governing repatriation in many respects.  But finally, none of the law may matter.  As I’ve argued before, the court of public opinion is often the most important arbiter in many of these cases.  Italy would seem to have a difficult time compelling the State Department or DOJ to compel the Getty to ship the Bronze to Italy; but they could impose a kind of cultural embargo on the Getty, or on other American archaeologists if they want to force the repatriation of the Bronze.

It should come as no surprise then that the Getty’s Press Release this afternoon was critical of the decision:

The Getty is disappointed in the ruling issued February 11 by Judge [Lorena] Mussoni in Pesaro, Italy, involving the Statue of a Victorious Youth, often referred to as the Getty Bronze. The court’s order is flawed both procedurally and substantively.

It should be noted that the same court in Pesaro dismissed an earlier case in 2007 in which the same prosecutor claimed the Statue of a Victorious Youth belonged to Italy. In that case, the judge held that the statute of limitations had long since expired, that there was no one to prosecute under Italian law, and that the Getty was to be considered a good faith owner.

In fact, no Italian court has ever found any person guilty of any criminal activity in connection with the export or sale of the statue. To the contrary, Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, held more than four decades ago that the possession by the original owners ‘did not constitute a crime.

The Getty will appeal the Pesaro court’s order to the Court of Cassation in Rome and will vigorously defend its legal ownership of the statue.

  1. Court orders seizure of Getty bronze, ANSA, Feb. 11, 2010.  
  2. Nicole Winfield, Italian court orders contested bronze statue confiscated from Getty Museum, CP, Feb. 11, 2010.  
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Suspicious Bronze not the Fano Athelete

Earlier this month in a Jan. 14th article the L.A. Times had apparently uncovered some evidence linking the Getty to criminal wrongdoing in the acquisition of this piece.  This bronze statue has been known by many names, including the “Getty Bronze”, the “Fano athelete”, or the “Bronze statue of a victorious youth”.  I’ve received a note from Julie Jaskol, Assistant Director of Media Relations at the Getty notifying me that the “Bronze” discussed in the letters was not this Bronze Athlete. 

The Times has corrected the story:

Bronze statue: A Jan. 14th article in Section A about an Italian legal  case involving the J. Paul Getty Museum’s statue of a bronze athlete mischaracterized a 1976 letter to museum director Stephen Garrett. The  letter from the late antiquities expert and Getty adviser Bernard Ashmole, which referred to the museum’s “exploits over the bronze statue” as a “crime,” was describing a different bronze statue in the museum’s collection. Garrett, who initially told The Times the letter referred to the bronze athlete, now says he was mistaken.

I wrote a very long summery of the dispute back in 2007.  The statue was found by fisherman in the Adriatic in 1964, smuggled out of Italy, and eventually purchased by the Getty in 1977.  The bronze was discussed a great deal in the very public battle between Italy and the Getty over other looted objects in recent years.  Yet there was a lack of direct evidence linking the Getty to any wrongdoing in the acquisition.  Criminal proceedings were brought against some of the fishermen and handlers of the statue in Italy, yet there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction.  At present a prosecutor has brought suit in Italy to attempt to secure possession of the statue.  Had the letter discussed in Felch’s original piece referred to this bronze, this would have provided strong corroborating evidence in the court of public opinion for the return of the bronze. 

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More on the Getty Bronze

Jason Felch has an interesting story updating the long history of this bronze statue known either as the “Getty Bronze”, the “Fano athelete”, or the “Bronze statue of a victorious youth”.  I wrote a very long summery of the dispute back in 2007.  The statue was found by fisherman in the Adriatic in 1964, was smuggled out of Italy, and was eventually purchased by the Getty in 1977.  As Felch rightly points out, this dispute does not fit neatly into the legal framework governing many antiquities dispute.  This bronze really was found by accident, and early Italian attempt to prosecute the fisherman were unsuccessful.

The bronze was discussed a great deal in the very public battle between Italy and the Getty over other looted objects.  There was a lack of direct evidence linking the Getty to any wrongdoing in the acquisition.  However at “Times reporter” has uncovered a letter and other documents which reveal there were serious questions regarding the statue:

1976 letter from Ashmole to Garrett referring to “the crime”

These documents should not come as any real surprise I don’t think. And though they may not provide enough of a legal basis to secure the return of the bronze, but they will add to the growing public pressure which Italy may try to exert to secure the return of the statue.

  1. Jason Felch, A twist in Getty Museum’s Italian court saga –, L.A. Times, January 14, 2010.
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Thoughts on Teaching Antiquities Law in Italy

We have just returned home to New Orleans after a terrific couple of weeks in Amelia Italy where I was teaching a module on antiquities law for the first ARCA MA program this summer, and presenting at the ARCA Conference.  I’ll have more to say on the conference and Francesco Rutelli’s comments tomorrow.  Today I want to highlight the MA program itself, and what a treat it was to teach antiquities law in Italy. 

It was a terrific experience teaching in that setting, where heritage is often just outside your door.  We had a lot of fun, but I also came away impressed with the ARCA program and what the Director, Noah Charney and all of the students are trying to create.  The students were a great bunch, and will no doubt go on to do some exciting things in the heritage field.  We are at a point now where these laws and policies are increasingly complex and are playing more prominent roles in all fields from collections management, curatorship, archaeology, art history, conservation, and of course purchasing and selling of antiquities.  Consequently, I think it will be increasingly important for all of these field to incorporate some component of heritage education and crime prevention into their body of professional knowledge. 

Heritage issues and art crime are both under-examined I think; and the opportunities to study or even teach these important ideas are sadly far too rare.  That is changing I think, and one of the real treats I had in Italy were some of the exciting ideas and discussions which the ARCA MA students were able to generate.  One of the frustrating things about antiquities policy in particular is it often devolves into a set of entrenched arguments, and partisans on both sides often have difficulty acknowledging the gaps and flaws in their own reasoning.  Teaching a course was terrific for me because it exposed some of my own gaps, but also reaffirmed some things, and helped to crystallize my thinking. 

I think perhaps the best example of that may be this statute of Germanicus, located in Amelia’s Archaeological museum, and located right next door to the public library where we had classes.  This statue was found just outside the city walls in 1963, in pieces, where the Roman campus would have been.

One of the questions which we all write and think about when we discuss art and heritage is where do these objects belong, and this beautiful bronze was a great catalyst for that kind of discussion.  Amelia is not a particularly big town with a population of perhaps 15,000, and it doesn’t receive all that many tourists, because it doesn’t have a railway station and there are other sights to see in Umbria.  As a result, there may be some room to question whether Germanicus belongs in Amelia, as opposed to Peruggia, Rome, or even Paris or London or Malibu.  After all, not as many people can view the statue in Amelia; and the conservation techniques may not be as sophisticated as at the World’s leading arts institutions (apparently the conservators may have been a little too liberal with the green paint when they touched up the statue).

However all the ARCA students seemed to agree that there is no better place than Amelia for this Bronze.  And they weren’t a bunch of radical archaeologists, their backgrounds were pretty diverse.  The reason they agreed I think is that they had become connected to the daily rhythym of the city, they knew the butcher, the guys who run the wine bar, the bar where the locals hang out on Sundays, the restaurant owners, and they can see I think how important heritage and culture is to this city; and as a result, when we discussed the bronze, we asked a number of questions that I’m not sure you would have asked if you saw this bronze in Rome, or Paris, or London, or even Malibu. 

Germanicus was removed from this living and vibrant culture which clearly respects and values its traditions and heritage.  Where was the statue located?  Why was it located just outside this gate, the Porta Romana?  Why was it cut up and buried?  Why was Germanicus such a beloved figure?  As we learned from the staff at the Archaeological Museum, this Bronze was apparently cut up and buried later when Christianity gained influence in the Roman Empire and these bronzes and statues were being cut up or destroyed to make way for other images.  So you can see this remarkable bronze, just a few steps away from where it would have been on display hundreds of years ago. 

These are a very different set of questions than would have been asked if this statue was on display somewhere else, and I had a very different visceral reaction on seeing Germanicus then when I saw the “Bronze Statue of A Victorious Youth” at the Getty Villa for example.  So antiquities law and policy, which starts with the quesiton of where theese objects belong, and how they should be excavated; probably could not have been taught in a much better setting in my view.  Context was all around us, and it was a terrific open-air classroom. 

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An OPEC for Nations of Origin? (LATE UPDATE)

OPEC is the organization of oil-producing countries which regulates their production, price, etc. A number of people have suggested that perhaps a similar movement should be adopted among nations of origin for antiquities loans, repatriations, and perhaps even licit sales. It would seem to be a terrific strategy for these nations to combine their efforts, so long as they can agree upon similar strategies. A few items in the news and among other blogs point to the emergence of such a collaboration.
First, Italy and Greece have continued their cooperation. The Greek Minister of Culture, Mihalis Liapis and Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister for Culture have signed a memorandum of cooperation on cultural issues. As part of the agreement, the Nostoi exhibition will travel to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens in September, and there will likely be more pressure on institutions and private collectors to return objects, as David Gill recently noted with the news that Shelby White will return objects to Greece.

This news comes as Egypt continued its recent efforts and signed yet another agreement, this time with Ecuador. Egypt has already signed agreements with Italy, Cyprus, Denmark, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Jordan, Peru and Switzerland according to the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram.

I think we can take a couple of lessons from these efforts. First, it is another indication that UNESCO has had a difficult time building consensus, and the spread of these bilateral agreements is a sign the UNESCO Convention itself does very little if a signatory does not want to give much teeth to its accession.

Second, these repatriations and cooperation may be a very good thing, however the real test of these efforts remains how well sites are protected, and whether there remains a workable heritage management policy in these nations. Recent news out of Greece suggests they are not. It seems last month the Greek parliament has taken a step last month to allow divers to access the entirety of the Greek coastline. This would be very good for tourism, but how are the objects these divers find going to be managed or educated? How will sites be affected?

Pictured here of course is the Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth, a statue found by chance in the Adriatic in the 1960s. How many more of these objects will be uncovered if the Greek coast is opened up to divers? I know very little about how the Greek waters are currently protected, but it would seem to me to be a poor policy which only criticizes foreign institutions and buyers while not properly protecting domestic objects and sites before they are exported.


David Gill has kindly noted in the comments, and on his blog that the report I noted above is out-of-date and most likely inaccurate. It seems Greece is not, of course, thinking about opening its coast to amateur underwater salvors. However, I think the underlying question I raised is still valid in Greece and elsewhere: what can and should be done about underwater sites and wrecks

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The Getty Bronze and "Culture Property Wars"

The “Arts, Briefly” section in today’s New York Times has a couple of interesting points today. First, Marion True went on trial in Greece for conspiring to acquire a gold funerary wreath, alleged to have been removed from Greece. Also, a judge in Pesaro, Italy dismissed a local prosecutor’s claim to the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” found by fisherman in the Adriatic and currently on display at the Getty. When a repatriation agreement was reached in August for 40 other objects, Italian authorities said they would consider their case after the case in Pesaro was resolved.

Along those lines Lee Rosenbaum has an interesting series of posts on how to create a “ceasefire in the cultural property wars”. She makes a number of excellent suggestions, including a need for full disclosure of acquisition policies, and to create a “consistent handling” of repatriation proposals. I agree with both those suggestions.

I have to raise some issues with her discussion of a consensus for future acquisitions. She gives the three dates normally given as cutoffs for new acquisitions:

  1. 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention;
  2. 1983, the date the US implemented the Convention with the CPIA; or
  3. A 10-year “rolling rule” advocated by the Association of Art Museum Directors.

Those are all plausible dates, but I think Rosenbaum misses the point in discussing the Getty’s new acquisition policy, and how it relates to the Getty Bronze. First, here’s the Getty’s revised acquisition policy:

For the acquisition of any ancient work of art or archaeological material, the revised policy requires:

* Documentation or substantial evidence that an item was in the United States by November 17, 1970 and that there is no reason to suspect it was illegally exported from its country of origin OR

* Documentation or substantial evidence that the item was out of its country of origin before November 17, 1970 and that it has been or will be legally imported into the United States, OR

* Documentation or substantial evidence that the item was legally exported from its country of origin after November 17, 1970 and that it has been or will be legally imported into the United States.

Rosenbaum then argues, “good faith counts. And it seems to me that this is the best argument for returning the Getty Bronze: There was plenty of ‘reason to suspect it was illegally exported from its country of origin,’ and plenty of people DID suspect it, at the time of the acquisition.”

I think Rosenbaum misses the point of the new acquisition policy, because if the Getty were deciding whether to acquire the Bronze today, based on its new acquisition policy it could certainly do so. To be fair, you have to think like a lawyer. The “or” is critical. The Getty could hypothetically acquire the statue if any one of the three clauses are satisfied; it doesn’t have to satisfy all three. The statue was found in international waters in 1964. Even assuming Italy was its “country of origin” the statue had left Italy by 1970, and it certainly was legally imported into the United States; as at that time the US did not enforce Italy’s export restrictions. It’s also worth remembering that absent a treaty agreement the US does not enforce the export restrictions of another nations. The reasons for that policy are complicated, and often don’t seem to have a solid policy foundation, but that’s the general rule followed in both the US and the UK.

These are difficult issues to be sure, but as I’ve argued I don’t think Italy has a strong ethical or legal claim to the statue. Greece perhaps has an ethical claim, but not Italy. The most likely reason for the statue ending up in the Adriatic is it was taken from Greece, probably by Romans.

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Reaction to the Italy/Getty Accord

In a joint press release yesterday the two sides announced the Getty will return 40 objects to Italy. The Cult Statue of a Goddess or Morgantina Aphrodite (pictured here) as its sometimes called will stay at the Getty Villa until 2010. In exchange there will be “broad cultural collaboration that will include loans of significant art works, joint exhibitions, research, and conservation projects.” Of course the sticking point in negotiations had been the Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth, and Italy agreed to postpone negotiations on that object until the outcome of a new criminal investigation. What could a new investigation could hope to uncover 40 years after the statue’s discovery? Not too much I would gather, especially considering a criminal prosecution was unsuccessful as Italy could not establish the statue was discovered in Italian territorial waters.

There are a number of good reactions to the agreement. Two in particular stand out. The art critic for the LA Times, Christopher Knight rightly points out why both sides need to work together. For one, the Getty Villa provides an excellent backdrop for displaying objects from ancient Mediterranean cultures. As he argues:

The Villa is, in fact, the only art museum in the United States devoted solely to the Greek, Etruscan, Roman and other cultures of the ancient Mediterranean. Loans of major objects to the Met and Boston will certainly add sheen to their great historical collections. But antiquities are just one small part of those museums’ attractions.

There is something to be said for the total immersion that a focused museum provides. Italy, where state collections of significant antiquities are anything but scarce, has the wherewithal to provide magnificent loans that will be extraordinarily meaningful in the Villa’s context. Art has richer import and significance in the context of other art.

But also, the Getty has a lot to offer Italy in return:

[T]he museum can make the best use of those loans, given the Getty’s vast resources. Set aside the legal and ethical issues around the disputed Aphrodite for a moment. The work that has been done on the sculpture, in everything from conservation to historical and scientific research, is extraordinary. Dedicating those same resources to potential loans from Italy as well as to the exceptional objects in the Getty’s own collection holds enormous promise.

The recent study of the Morgantina Aphrodite is an excellent example of the kinds of study which could take place. Finally, Knight argues long term loans are a good pragmatic response to the problem of antiquities looting. There is of course a great demand for antiquities, and the legitimate market is unable to meet this demand. As he says “Smart collection sharing can help relieve the pressure.” I think that’s exactly right.

David Gill echoes this sentiment as well. He has a new blog called looting matters. He and his collaborator, Christopher Chippindale, have done some excellent work using concrete data to establish certain classes of antiquities are most likely illicitly excavated. They have done excellent work on cycladic figurines in particular. This along with the work of Ricardo Elia on apulian vases has helped to establish a solid and definite problem with provenance. Gill notes that several items on the list of 40 objects to be returned are from the collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman. He argues many objects in that collection were illicit.

In any event the accord is a welcome development. Source nations and museums should be working together. A combative relationship weakens both sides and distracts from the salient issue: antiquities are an extremely valuable commodity and their trade and disposition must be responsibly regulated.


I misspelled Christopher Chippindale’s name and incorrectly attributed Ricardo Elia’s work. I have corrected the second-to-last paragraph accordingly. Many thanks to David Gill for pointing out my errors.

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