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Author Topic: In a Tug of War, Ancient Statue Is Symbol of Patrimony  (Read 184 times)
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« on: July 05, 2007, 10:35:48 AM »

The disputed statue, usually identified as the goddess Aphrodite, holds court thousands of miles away, at the J. Paul Getty Museum�s antiquities villa in California

Published: July 4, 2007

AIDONE, Sicily � The star attraction of the archaeological museum in this sleepy backwater in central Sicily actually isn�t here.

 Instead, this ancient treasure, a giant statue from the fifth century B.C. usually identified as the goddess Aphrodite, holds court thousands of miles away, at the J. Paul Getty Museum�s antiquities villa in California.

In the Aidone Archaeological Museum, which houses artifacts from a nearby dig at an ancient Greek settlement called Morgantina, visitors settle for a large poster at the entrance depicting the statue and announcing a national campaign to bring it back.

�This is her rightful place,� said Nicola Leanza, the culture minister for Sicily, who, like many others, argues that the goddess was illegally excavated from Morgantina.

A view of the excavation site

The Getty, which bought the statue in 1988 for $18 million, isn�t so sure.

For nearly two decades it fended off the Italian government�s sporadic claims to the sculpture. But as the demands grew more pressing, the Getty acknowledged that there might be �problems� attached to the acquisition. In November it announced that it would study the object and reach a decision on whether to hand it over within a year.

�We are on target to achieve that objective,� Ron Hartwig, a Getty spokesman, said in an e-mail message. (The museum has already offered to transfer title to the statue.)

Yet the people of Aidone are tired of waiting. For this town the statue has become a blazing symbol of Italy�s legal and moral battle against foreign museums and private collectors that bought archaeological artifacts with hazy backgrounds, plundering the nation of its heritage.

For decades the Sicilian countryside has been a prime target for tomb robbers and a network of compliant traders.

�Morgantina was sacked for too long,� said Giovanni Calafiore, president of the Aidone chapter of an amateur archaeology association, who organized a bring-back-the-Aphrodite protest march in December. �Now we�re fighting to get back what�s rightfully ours.�

Beatrice Basile, the art superintendent for the province of Enna, which includes Morgantina, said the campaign to win back the statue had had a profound psychological impact on the townspeople.

�It�s given an identity to the people in Aidone, who feel very strongly that this is a restitution that in some way would compensate for a collective loss to their society,� she said.

Even though the statue is still in the Getty Museum�s villa in Pacific Palisades, Calif., this newfound self-awareness has already had a practical effect. Sicilians here are now far more willing to patrol the countryside to crack down on clandestine digs and to help investigators in individual cases, Ms. Basile said.

�This is the miracle of the Aphrodite,� she added.

The statue, 7 � feet tall with a limestone torso and marble head and limbs, is also among the contested pieces cited in the case against Marion True, the Getty�s former curator of antiquities, who is being tried in Rome on charges of trafficking in looted art. She denies any wrongdoing.

The museum is also negotiating with Italian officials over 51 other artifacts in its collection.

The Getty bought the Aphrodite from a London dealer, Robin Symes. A handwritten bill of sale dated March 18, 1986, indicates that Mr. Symes bought a fifth-century B.C. �acrolith statue of a draped woman� from Renzo Canavesi, then a currency-exchange operator in Chiasso, Switzerland.

A postscript in the bill of sale said the statue had belonged to Mr. Canavesi�s family since 1939, the year that a law was passed in Italy making it illegal to export any archaeological artifact from the country without government permission.

In 2001 Mr. Canavesi was tried in Italy on charges of illegal trafficking involving the Aphrodite. But on appeal his conviction was thrown out because the statute of limitations had expired, according to Italian documents. In August 1987, before buying the artifact, the Getty contacted the Italian culture ministry through a lawyer seeking information on the authenticity and provenance of a statue of Aphrodite. The museum later said the ministry told the lawyer that Italy had no information about the statue.

In July 1988 Ms. True officially informed the culture ministry that the Getty board had approved the acquisition. She invited the Italians to contact the museum with �any information on the recent history of this object that you believe might be important to us.�

Italian investigators had already redoubled their efforts to track down the statue�s origins.
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« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2007, 01:02:19 AM »

Getty Agrees to Return Artworks

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


The Los Angeles museum reached an agreement with the Italian government after years of negotiations

ROME � The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has agreed to hand over 40 objects from its antiquities collection that Italy contends were looted from its soil.

   A fifth-century B.C. statue of a cult deity usually identified as Aphrodite, one of the Getty's prized pieces, is among the works to be returned to Italy, the Italian Culture Ministry and the museum's governing trust said in a joint statement Wednesday.

   But discussions on the fate of another statue, a fourth-century/B.C. bronze of a young athlete that was pivotal to the breakdown of earlier negotiations, have been temporarily put aside so that an Italian court can conduct an inquiry on how the artifact was found and how it left Italy in the 1960s.

   Full details of the accord were not made public, but the 40 pieces include 26 works that the Getty had unilaterally agreed to return to Italy last November. When talks started in earnest a year ago, Italy had presented the museum with documentation regarding 52 antiquities that the Culture Ministry says were looted, but it later dropped six from that list.

   It is unclear what effect � if any � the agreement will have on the legal fate of the Getty's former antiquities curator Marion True, who has been on trial in Italy since 2005 on charges of trafficking in looted art.

   Several of the pieces that the Getty agreed to return are part of the prosecution's case against True and Robert Hecht, an American antiquities dealer who is on trial with her in Rome. Both deny any wrongdoing.

   Reached by telephone, Harry Stang, True's lawyer in Los Angeles, said he could not speculate on whether the pact would prompt Italian prosecutors to drop or reduce the charges against her. But he added, �We can state unequivocally that she will continue her defense of the case against her to establish her innocence of the charges.�

   In a phone interview, Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, said the new accord made �no specific reference to the trial.�

   Nonetheless, he added, �We all hope that there will be a vast improvement in the situation� of True.

   He said he hoped the pact would �allow Marion to get a little peace, a bit of compassion.� What happens next �is entirely in the hands of Italy,� he said.

   As the Getty's antiquities curator from 1986 to 2005, True oversaw the acquisition of many of the disputed objects, among them the Aphrodite.

   Under the terms of Wednesday's accord, the Aphrodite, which the Getty bought in 1988 for $18 million, is to remain at the museum until 2010. Brand said that the museum hoped to return the rest of the pieces by the end of the year, but that there could be some delays because of the fragility of the pieces. �It's a question of logistics and safety,� he said.

   The artifacts range from heroic Greek marble sculptures to delicate red- and black-figured serving vessels to vivid fragments of frescoes.

   It is the biggest handover Italy has negotiated with a museum so far in its campaign to retrieve classical artifacts and crack down on the plundering of what it sees as its archaeological heritage.

   One reason that the Getty accord has been long in the making is that each side has fought hard to press its case � the Getty by hiring a high-profile Los Angeles law firm to question some of Italy's claims and otherwise represent its interests, and the Italians by threatening a cultural embargo against the Getty should a deal not be reached. That embargo was set to go into effect on Wednesday.

   Brand said the latest round of talks began in mid-June and involved a constant exchange of letters, faxes, e-mail messages and phone calls, particularly between himself and Rutelli. �It was pretty clear both sides wanted to reach an agreement,� he said.

   A major stumbling block was overcome when Italy agreed to remove the bronze statue of the youth from its list of what must urgently be returned. The Getty contends that it was found in international waters, not on Italian territory; Italy will wait for the outcome of a legal case involving the statue in Pesaro, Italy, before it will decide whether or not to continue to press its claim.


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