Getty to return three major sculptures to Italy

A beautifully preserved group of three life-size terracotta figures dating to 300 BC that was seized from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Lo...


A beautifully preserved group of three life-size terracotta figures dating to 300 BC that was seized from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will be returned to Italy after the museum agrees that ‘It had been illegally excavated, museum and law enforcement officials said.

The three items were confiscated in April as part of an investigation into an accused Italian antiquities trafficker, Gianfranco Becchina, 83, who was found guilty of receiving stolen antiquities from Greece, officials said. The warrant listed his current value at $8 million. The Getty Museum announced the return Thursday.

“Once we informed the museum of the investigation and the evidence we had, they cooperated fully,” said Matthew Bogdanos, the head of the prosecutor’s office Antiquities Trafficking Unit. Bogdanos said his office was able to cross state lines with the help of federal Homeland Security agents because the investigation was within his jurisdiction.

Getty director Timothy Potts said in an interview on Friday that the removal of the grouping, known as “Orpheus and the Sirens,” was a blow. “It is a very important example of ancient art and a loss to our collection and to our visitors,” he said, “but there is clear evidence that it was illegally excavated, there is no therefore only had to return it to Italy.”

Massimo Osanna, the director general of museums at Italy’s culture ministry, said talks with the Getty about the return of “Orpheus and the Sirens” began last February, when museum officials visited Rome. The subsequent seizure order “accelerated the situation”, he said.

The confiscation and return will deprive the Getty Villa Museum of one of its iconic pieces, which occupied a prominent place near the entrance to the museum. The Getty Villa Museum, a large annex to the main Los Angeles museum that was built to recreate a luxurious Roman country house, is full of Greco-Roman antiquities.

In 2001, Becchina was briefly detained in Italy and charged with receiving stolen goods, illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic in goods. In 2011, after a long legal battle, the charges were dismissed as the statute of limitations had expired. But the judge handling the case said he had to give up thousands of stolen ancient Roman artifacts because they had clearly been looted by grave robbers.

All three figures were acquired by Getty himself in 1976, museum officials said, and they listed Getty’s diary entry for that day, which listed the purchase price as 550,000 $. The extreme fragility of “Orpheus and the Sirens” requires specially adapted equipment and procedures, the museum said.

The museum said it removed the objects from public view and shipped them to Rome in September. According to Getty’s website, the grouping was likely painted in bright colors and used to decorate a tomb. Officials said he will be exposed to the new Saved Art Museum in Rome before finding a permanent residence in Taranto, Puglia.

Osanna added that there was still a disagreement with the Getty over a statue, “Victorious Youth” also known as the Getty Bronze, which has been the subject of contention between the museum and Italy for decades. “We still hope to reach an agreement,” he said.

Italian authorities say the bronze was smuggled out of Italy without the proper export papers and accused the museum of deliberately neglecting to do due diligence before purchasing it.

The Getty counters that it was actually a Greek statue discovered in international waters hundreds of years after it was made, so it only has a fleeting connection to Italy. The museum said the repatriation claims were baseless.

As with other museums, the Getty has returned many items to Italy in recent years after evidence emerged that they had been trafficked. In 2007, for example, the museum handed over 40 objects from its antiquities collection after what was described as a “long and complex negotiation” with Italian authorities.

The The Antiquities Trafficking Unit itself returned 142 objects to Italy last month which had mostly belonged to billionaire industrialist Michael H. Steinhardt and the Royal-Athena Galleries in Manhattan. Officials said many of the items, seized last year, passed through the hands of Becchina.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Getty to return three major sculptures to Italy
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