The ‘Getty Bronze’ forfeiture stalls badly in Italy

Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa
Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa

I’ve written a great deal here about the ongoing dispute between the Getty Museum and officials in Italy over this ancient Greek statue.

In the wake of a pair of regional court rulings in 2010 and 2012 in Pesaro, Italy there seemed a chance that Italy would secure a trans-Atlantic forfeiture of the athlete (which I considered in an article).

But now those Italian court orders have been ruled in violation of the European convention on human rights because the cases were not heard in open court. This should not come as a great surprise, as the Italian court of cassation remanded the case to an Italian constitutional court in 2014, and a favorable result seemed remote. And Italy is now left with an embarrassing and incomplete forfeiture effort, which was only ever going to be the first step of a legal strategy which would be given high marks for degree of difficulty. So this “Fano Athelete” as the Italians describe him will likely not be taking a trip to Italy any time soon.

At present the bronze is a part of the “Power and Pathos” exhibition currently on display at the National Gallery in Washington.

  1. EU law rejects Getty Lysippos restitution verdict, http://theartnewspaper.com/news/eu-law-rejects-getty-lysippos-restitution-verdict/ (last visited Dec 31, 2015).

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.

The Getty will Return a 12th C. Manuscript to Greece

An image from the illuminated Manuscript
An image from the illuminated Manuscript

The Getty has announced the return of a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament. Details are scarce in the piece, other than a record in 1960 from the Monastary indicated the Manuscript was missing. The object was acquired in 1983 as part of a “large, well-documented” collection.

From the Getty’s release:

The manuscript was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1983 as part of a large, well-documented collection. Recent research on the object by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, which was conducted in close collaboration with the Getty, suggested that the New Testament had not been legally transferred from the Monastery of Dionysiou. This was confirmed by a recently obtained 1960 monastery record indicating that the book had been illegally removed. The report of its disappearance had never been made public, nor had information about the theft been made available to the Getty, to law enforcement, or to any databases of stolen art.

The Getty is right to point out in the release that this is a voluntary return which came about as a result of the agreements entered into by the Museum as a result of other returns of illicit material. But one wonders about this other collection, if there are other objects in that collection which may be suspect, and how exactly the facts surrounding this return came to light.

 

Press Release, The J. Paul Getty Museum Announces the Return of A Byzantine Illuminated New Testament to Greece, http://news.getty.edu/press-materials/press-releases/byzantine-manu-to-greece.htm (April 7, 2014).

Repatriated Objects from the Getty in Naples

Over the weekend I traveled with a group from Amelia down to Sorrento and the Bay of Naples. On Saturday we went into Naples and visited what may be the most important Italian archaeological museum in Italy, the Naples National Archaeological Museum. It was every bit as stunning as advertised. A grand old beautiful shambling wreck of a museum in a beautiful mess of an Italian city, with the Farnese Bull, and the Alexander Mosaic, and much more. It was a lovely visit to one of Italy’s very best museums. It was founded in the 1750s by Charles III of Spain, and houses a number of important works from nearby Pompei and Herculaneum, which had been rediscovered and excavated in the early part of the 18th century.

But on the way out, a sign indicating what exhibition rooms were open or closed stood out. We hadn’t noticed it on the way in. I’ve posted the picture here, and even though it is too blurry to read, the red text at the bottom says ‘Restituzione dal museo J.P. Getty’, but the gallery was closed. One of our group asked (in Italian), why the gallery was closed, and was told apparently it was due to a lack of funding.

He asked, ‘what objects were in the gallery from the Getty’, and the museum employee responded that there was not enough funding for an inventory, probably meaning they did not have enough money to prepare a brochure. So which objects were meant to be displayed, the museum visitor can only guess at. Now I have no way of knowing if this is a typical case. Perhaps we caught the museum on a day where they were understaffed—though it was a Saturday. We paid our 8 euros each, though, and did our small part. There were a number of closed off areas, as you can perhaps make out in my amateur photograph, so there are other areas closed to the public.

Italy is currently enduring its own austerity measures, and like other nations which are cutting back, culture and heritage are some of the first targets. So perhaps in more prosperous times these objects will be displayed more regularly. But even with a good reason for the closing, even with a good reason for restitution, what good is a return if the objects can not be displayed? It will reduce the demand perhaps, but keep these objects hidden away, at least for our small group.

The museum was, for me, stunning. Whether the objects from the Getty (whatever they were) would have compared to the Farnese Bull, the Hercules at rest pictured here, or any of the stunning micro-mosaics can only be guessed at. But it is a striking irony that all of the work and time and effort spent repatriating objects from the Getty was wasted on this visitor, who took a plane, train, taxi, and bumpy ferry, walked the rainy streets of Naples to the Museum, and was still unable to see the objects ‘in context’ in Naples. This certainly does not justify for me the illicit and illegal trade in these objects. It does though I think crystallize just how vexing the antiquities trade, museums, and repatriation issues can be.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com