The Art of Compromise: Getty Museum Will Return 40 Antiquities to Rome

A long and embarrassing squabble over allegedly smuggled ancient artifacts will end in a settlement between the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Italian government. Forty pieces will go back to Italy. But the Getty's former curator still faces charges in an Italian court.

I'm going home to Italy.
AFP

I'm going home to Italy.

A last-minute compromise will send 40 works of art in the Getty Museum's antiquities collection back to Italy, after a 15-month battle of wills between America's wealthiest art institution and the government in Rome.

In response, Italy has dropped a legal suit charging that the Getty had acquired a total of 52 antiquities through illegal channels. Both sides put an amiable face on the end of an embarrassing and sometimes rancorous dispute.

"From the moment we closed the deal, we confirmed that we were pulling out of the legal case," said Francesco Rutelli, Italy's deputy prime minister and culture minister, while Getty Museum director Michael Brand said it was "gratifying to have reached the final conclusion."

The Los Angeles-based Getty Museum was up against a July 31 deadline to settle with Italian authorities, who had threatened to break off all future cultural cooperation with the museum. Before the latest round of negotiations, the Getty was offering to return 26 of the disputed pieces.

The agreement has no effect on a trial in Rome against the Getty's former curator, Marion True, who resigned in 2005 amid allegations by Italian prosecutors of knowingly acquiring stolen pieces. (She denies the charges.) Rome's case rests on a 1939 Italian law that declares ancient artifacts found in Italian digs to be state property.

Gaps in the Getty Villa

The Italian government has applied similar pressure to New York's Metropolitan Museum and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts -- both of which have returned suspect pieces -- but the Getty agreement is the largest yet. It will open a total of 40 gaps in the Roman-style Getty Villa in Malibu, California -- a smaller, older sibling to the elaborate Getty Center in Brentwood. The Villa re-opened in 2006 after a nine-year renovation as a showcase for the institution's Greek and Roman collection.

"I don't have any worries about the gaps," Michael Brand told the Reuters news agency. "We could have some amazing things come into that space. It will be extraordinary to have 40 new objects coming in. It is sad but at the same time it is exciting."

The most famous piece among the 40 painted jars, fresco fragments, and statues is a marble carving of the goddess Aphrodite. It's seven feet (2.2 meters) tall, dates to the 5th century BC and was bought by the Getty in 1988 for $18 million. The Italians expect to have it back by 2010, and "have offered to lend us something of equal importance," according to Brand.

The two sides agreed to talk later about another famous piece, the Statue of a Victorious Youth, acquired in 1977 and nicknamed the "Getty Bronze." Its provenance is still being ruled on by an Italian court.

msm/reuters/spiegel

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