Will the Getty have to return “Victorious Youth”?

I’ve finished an essay looking at the question of whether Italy can successfully repatriate the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” (the Getty calls it the “Getty Bronze”). The answer? It is very likely if Italy can secure the assistance from the Federal Government. But Italy should have a very good case for receiving assistance because of a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty first signed in 1982, and renewed in 2010.

Here’s the abstract:

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 when it acquired 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 can reclaim 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 in the importance of domestic law in source nations in cultural heritage law.


At present its a work in progress so please get in touch if you have any comments!

Fincham, Derek. Transnational Forfeiture of the “Getty” Bronze, (work in progress, 2013).

7 thoughts on “Will the Getty have to return “Victorious Youth”?”

  1. The facts in the case of Victorious Youth, often referred to as the Getty Bronze, do not warrant restitution of the object to Italy. The statue was found in international waters in 1964, and was purchased by the Getty Museum in 1977, years after Italian courts concluded there was no evidence that the statue belonged to Italy.

    Moreover, the statue is not part of Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage. Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object. Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.

    We very much value our strong and fruitful relationship with the Italian Ministry of Culture and our museum colleagues in Italy. Resolution of this matter must rest on the facts and applicable law, under which we expect our ownership of the Victorious Youth to be upheld. We will continue to defend our legal right to the statue, and remain hopeful that the Court of Cassation in Rome will provide the appropriate analysis of applicable Italian law.

    Ron Hartwig, Vice President, Communications
    J. Paul Getty Trust

  2. It is of Greek origin and creation, probably stolen by the Romans. By what right do the Italians claim this piece other than it rested,briefly, on Italian soil after its recovery? It is as if the Germans were to claim art stolen by them during the Nazi era, then sold abroad after WWII. Where is the Greek government? It is they who should be seeking repatriation, probably along with other Greek pieces stolen by the Romans.

  3. Sorry, as first, for my very bad Enlgish. But, by the italian laws, any archaeological object, that was not private before 1909 (and you must prove it), belongs to the State and cannot be sold. The Bronze was found by an Italian ship (i.e. Italian territory), and unload in Fano, Italy, 1964. After it spended years in the Country, it was carried out from Italy, without any permission (it nedeed to have it, always by Italian laws). This is, at least, smugglig; and, always by italian law, all the objects about (even if all the people are quitted) must be confiscated. The old trials had another object, not the belonging of the Youth to Italy. But now, a judgment decided in this sense. Getty made an appeal; and a second sentence rejected it, and confirmed the confiscation. We are only expecting the final sentence, by the Supreme Court, because of one more appeal by Getty. Why Mister Hartwig, rather, don’t remember us that Mr Getty didn’t bought the Youth without any clearence by Italian Governement about the provenance, and Museum did it just after his death? To apply the final sentence (when it will be), there are the MOU between USA and Italy, and the 1982 Treaty, as Derek Fincham wrote.
    Fabio Isman, journalist and writer, author of “I predatori dell’arte perduta”, Skira 2009,

  4. As an International Law Professor I examined the decisions and orders issued by the Italian Criminal Courts and the Court of Cassation on the Getty Bronze case, and I wrote two comments on this case in which I address several legal issues.
    One comment is in English:
    “The Dilemma of the Right to Ownership of Underwater Cultural Heritage: The Case of the Getty Bronze”, and is published in the book edited by BORELLI and LENZERINI, Cultural Heritage, Cultural Rights, Cultural Diversity, New Developments in International Law, Martin Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden-Boston 2012, at p. 301-326.
    The other one is in Italian: “Patrimonio culturale sommerso: tutela dei beni archeologici e limiti alla cooperazione internazionale” in Archivio penale, August 2011 (p. 209-229) available on line at:

    I will be very happy to further discuss the topic and exchange views !

    The legal issues to discuss include the territorial scope of the Italian legislation on cultural heritage, some technical private international law questions relating to the determination of the law governing the ownership on a cultural object when it is transferred abroad, the (non) applicability of existing multilateral treaties on the restitution of cultural property, the difficulties of recognition and enforcement of the confiscation order by the US Courts.

    ALessandra Lanciotti

  5. When Italy willingly gives the bronze quadriga and prorphery sculpture of the tetrarchs, both looted from Constantinople, back to the Turks, maybe they’ll have a more even ethical playing field. As it is, they don’t take care of what they have in their territory now. Why are other governments as well as corporate interests having to pay to restore their monuments?

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