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Getty Bronze seizure appeal turned down

But high court ruling still pending

21 April, 16:22
Getty Bronze seizure appeal turned down (ANSA) - Pesaro, April 21 - An Italian judge on Wednesday turned down an appeal from the John Paul Getty Museum against the seizure of an Ancient Greek bronze statue at the center of a long-running dispute between Italy and the US museum.

Judge Raffaele Cormio said he could see "no reason" to uphold the Getty's request to suspend the confiscation of the world-famous artefact, which was found in the sea near this Adriatic coastal city 45 years ago.

However, Italian and US experts have voiced doubts that Italian art police will be empowered to go to Los Angeles and take the statue back.

Legal experts say Italy's highest appeals court, the Court of Cassation, may well rule in the Getty's favour on a separate instance filed in February.

Art experts, on the other hand, point to accords between the US institute and the Italian culture ministry which have spawned a series of loans and projects. The 4th-century BC 'Statue of a Victorious Youth' is believed to be the handiwork of Lysippos, perhaps the most acclaimed of ancient Greek sculptors, who grew to fame under the patronage of Alexander the Great.

Sources close to the case have said that while prosecutors in this northeastern coastal city are in fact preparing an international confiscation bid, the Italian government may opt to negotiate, as it has in the past.

Immediately after February's confiscation order, Italian Culture Minister Sandro Bondi instructed a top heritage official, Sandro Resca, to "follow the case with particular attention" in the light of a 2008 accord whereby the Getty returned contested works in exchange for boosted collaboration on digs and restoration of antiquities.

"The positive exchange of items (will) benefit from restoration carried out by the experts at the US museum," Bondi said.

The so-called 'Getty Bronze' was not included in a 2008 agreement on contested antiquities between Italy and the Getty for the return of art treasures including a famous 5th-century BC statue of Aphrodite.

Under the deal, Italy and the Getty agreed to bolster their cultural relations through important loans, joint exhibitions, research and conservation projects.

In the latest part of that accord, the Getty and the regional government of Sicily have agreed a string of projects including a major exhibition of Classical and Hellenistic (V-III centuries BC) items in Los Angeles in 2013 and another show on the ancient city of Selinunte at New York University at a date yet to be set.

The latest episode in a decades-old legal wrangle over the statue was sparked on February 11 when Pesaro Judge Lorena Mussoni ruled that the statue be ''confiscated from the museum'' and returned to Italy immediately.

Mussoni's decision overturned a ruling by the same court which two years ago rejected Italy's petition to have the statue seized because of a lack of evidence of smuggling.

But Mussoni argued that it had become state property the moment it was fished out of the Adriatic off the town of Fano in 1964 and could not have been sold afterwards without breaking Italian laws on antiquities.

The Getty Museum has consistently fought past Italian attempts to recover the statue.

Italian culture officials claim the art dealers who sold it to the Getty smuggled the statue out of the country, and have demanded the museum hand it back.

But their petition was rejected in November 2008 by another Pesaro judge on the grounds the statue's purchase came after a Rome court ruling that dismissed charges of smuggling for lack of evidence.

Other trafficking charges have either lapsed under the statute of limitations or are no longer applicable because of the death of the fishermen who found it and the art dealers involved in its sale, the judge said.

It was impossible to prove that the museum knew the object had been smuggled out of Italy, the judge added.

STATUE FETCHED 800 TIMES WHAT FISHERMEN PAID.

The statue has been contested ever since the Getty bought it for some four million dollars in 1977 - almost 800 times the $5,600 the fishermen sold it to Italian dealers for in 1964.

It remains unclear how the piece came into the museum's collection, where it re-emerged after disappearing for some 13 years and, according to one expert, changing hands across the Atlantic at least twice.

The American industrialist J. Paul Getty, whose collection laid the groundwork for the Los Angeles museum, was reportedly hesitant about the purchase, which went ahead after he died in 1974.

The 2008 exchange deal with the Getty was the third between Italy and major US institutions.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts also agreed to return key parts of their classical collections in return for loans of equivalent value.

Princeton University has since inked a similar deal for the return of eight Etruscan and Greek artefacts.

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