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Court orders seizure of Getty bronze

Ancient greek statue demanded back from Los Angeles museum

11 February, 17:52
Court orders seizure of Getty bronze

(ANSA) - Pesaro, February 11 - An Italian appeals court on Thursday ordered the immediate seizure of an ancient Greek bronze statue at the center of a long-running dispute between Italian culture authorities and the John Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

In the court order, Judge Lorena Mussoni ruled that the statue, known as the Getty bronze, be ''confiscated from the museum'' and returned to Italy immediately. The latest episode in a decades-old legal wrangle, Mussoni's decision overturned a 2008 ruling by another Pesaro judge rejecting Italy's petition to have the statue seized.

Missoni 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 move was presaged in hearings last June when the judge ruled that the statue was the ''inalienable property of the state''.

There was no comment about the ruling from the Getty Museum.

However, a group of art lovers gathered outside the Pesaro court rooms greeted the decision with cheers and champagne, declaring the ancient statue one step closer to ''coming home''.

Former culture minister Francesco Rutelli, who led a hard-fought battle to reclaim smuggled art treasures during his term in office, hailed the ruling as ''a historic occasion''.

''Today marks the end of the sacking of our archaeological treasures,'' he said.

The 4th-century BC ''Statue of a Victorious Youth'' is believed to be the handiwork of the Greek sculptor Lysippos, who grew to fame under the patronage of Alexander the Great. 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Other trafficking charges have either lapsed under the statute of limitations or are no longer applicable because of the death of the fishermen who found it and the art dealers involved in its sale, the judge said.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. The figure has been contested ever since the Getty bought it for almost 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.

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

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

The 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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