The Getty Museum must return a 2,000-year-old bronze statue it bought for $4 million in 1977 to Italy, the Italian supreme court ruled.
The ancient Greek statue of Victorious Youth, which was made by the Greek sculptor Lysippos between 300 and 100 BC, was found by fishermen off Italy’s Adriatic coast in 1964. It changed hands several times and was eventually acquired by the American museum in the 1970s. It is one of the most popular attractions in the Getty’s collection, and has been in dispute since its acquisition.
However, Italy has always maintained that the work was illegally exported, first filing a formal request for its return almost 30 years ago. The dispute escalated into an 11-year legal battle that came to an end on Wednesday when the supreme court in Rome dismissed the Getty’s appeal and upheld the repatriation order handed down by Pesaro judge Giacomo Gasperini in June.
Citing Italian media, the Guardian reported Pesaro prosecutor Silvia Cecchi said the ruling was “the final word from the Italian justice [system],” insisting that the sculpture “must be returned.”
Under Italy’s new populist government, the country’s culture ministry has made the preservation and return of its storied cultural heritage a fresh priority, and vowed to crack down on smuggling, looting and other art crimes.
In a statement, culture minister Alberto Bonisoli called on US authorities to return the Lysippos to Italy immediately. “I am happy that this judicial process has finally ended and the right to recover an extremely important piece of our country’s heritage has been recognized.”
Despite the ruling, the Getty is digging in its heels and has vowed to appeal the supreme court’s decision, arguing that the sculpture was discovered in international waters and pointing to a previous ruling from Italy’s supreme court that said that it could not be determined whether the artwork belonged to Italy.
“The court has not offered any written explanation of the grounds for its decision, which is inconsistent with its holding 50 years ago that there was no evidence of Italian ownership,” Getty vice-president Lisa Lapin said in a statement. “Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.”
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