Friday, February 12, 2010

The Victorious Youth

The stage is being set for a very public dispute between the Italian government and the John P. Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The New York Times reported on Thursday that an Italian court issued an order for the seizure of the Victorious Youth, a Greek bronze purchased by the Getty in 1977 for $4 million.

Victorious Youth (300 BCE-100 BCE) is one of the few life-size Greek bronzes surviving and is considered one of the most significant works in the Getty's collection. The Italian government claims that the statue was discovered by Italian fisherman off the Adriatic coast of Fano, Italy in 1964 and that it was exported illegally.

The Getty has maintained that the statue was purchased in good faith and that it will appeal the decision. The Museum released the following statement yesterday:
The Getty is disappointed in the ruling issued February 11 by Judge Mussoni in Pesaro, Italy, involving the Statue of a Victorious Youth, often referred to as the Getty Bronze. The court’s order is flawed both procedurally and substantively.

It should be noted that the same court in Pesaro dismissed an earlier case in 2007 in which the same prosecutor claimed the Statue of a Victorious Youth belonged to Italy. In that case, the judge held that the statute of limitations had long since expired, that there was no one to prosecute under Italian law, and that the Getty was to be considered a good faith owner.

In fact, no Italian court has ever found any person guilty of any criminal activity in connection with the export or sale of the statue. To the contrary, Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, held more than four decades ago that the possession by the original owners ‘did not constitute a crime.’

The Getty will appeal the Pesaro court’s order to the Court of Cassation in Rome and will vigorously defend its legal ownership of the statue. [Getty]

The Victorious Youth dispute is not a new one. In July 2006, an agreement between the Getty and Italy for the return of objects from the Getty's collection was stalled by the Italian claim to the bronze. Getty director Michael Brand said at the time, “I started these negotiations with a genuine spirit of compromise, but I will not recommend … the transfer of a publicly held work of art in response to a claim that is not supported by facts or international law" [Brand, 2007]. 40 works were ultimately returned to Italy in 2007 in exchange for long-term loans of other artifacts [NYT], but negotiations regarding the Victorious Youth were not resolved.

The New York Times reports that the bronze is believed to have sunk with a ship that was carrying it to Italy after the Romans conquered Greece. The Getty believes that the ship sank in the first century BCE or CE, when Roman collecting of Greek art was at its height.

The Italian government's attorney has argued, "''The piece is Italian and the Getty should return it.'' He indicated that the Italian trial examined whether the Getty used due diligence in investigating the provenance of the piece when it was purchased in 1977. If the U.S. Justice Department does not recognize the Italian court order to seize the bronze, the Italian government plans to bring the case to an American court.

Like the case of the Euphronios krater, the work in question is not Italian but Greek. The issue at hand is that both works are said to have been found on Italian territory. Under a 1939 Italian law, all antiquities found in Italy are the property of the state. It is therefore illegal to export any archaeological artifact from the country without government permission. But is the Italian case strong? What proof does the government have that the discovery was made in what are Italian waters? Is Victorious Youth really Italian as the government attorney argues? [NYT]

We'll watch what the U.S. Justice Department's response is and follow the Getty's appeal.

1 comment:

  1. The Victorious Youth himself looks puzzled over this disagreement!