Saturday 5 May 2012

Italian court upholds claim on Atleta di Fano

The case of the Atleta di Fano is becoming increasingly interesting. The statue of the Fano Athlete (also known as the Victorious Youth, or sometimes "The Getty Bronze") is one of the star objects in the Getty Villa, Malibu and was one of the museum's first acquisitions in 1976 for $4 million. It was an accidental discovery (snagged in the nets of an Italian fishing trawler, the "Ferri Ferruccio") in international waters off Fano on Italy's Adriatic coast in the summer of 1964. Jason Felch summarises what happened next. The finders:
buried it in a cabbage field and then hid it in a priest's bathtub rather than declare it to customs officials, as required under Italian law. Three brothers and the priest were convicted of trafficking in stolen goods, but an appeals court threw out their convictions in 1970, citing insufficient evidence. At the time, the statue was still missing, and its value was unknown. In the early 1970s, the statue resurfaced in London, where millionaire oilman J. Paul Getty first became enamored of it. Getty himself never authorized the purchase of the statue because he had concerns about its legal status, records show. In 1974, Italian officials tried to seize the statue in Germany, where it was being restored, but authorities there would not honor the request. It was only after Getty's death in 1976 that his namesake museum purchased the statue, ignoring the legal conditions its founder had placed on the acquisition, according to documents related to the case. 
 The Italians have long been trying to get this illegally-exported item back among the dozens of ancient objects which they were struggling to get back from the Getty's antiquities collection:
much of which was acquired from middlemen who trafficked in objects looted from Italian tombs and ruins. Talks broke down when the Getty refused to include the bronze on a list of objects it was willing to return. The impasse was broken only when a new criminal case about the bronze was filed in Italian court in 2007, taking it off the negotiating table. That case has wound through the Italian legal system ever since. In February 2010, a judge ordered the statue's return, citing the Getty's "grave negligence" when acquiring a statue. The Getty appealed that ruling to Italy's highest court, which sent the case back to the judge in Pesaro, not far from the port where the statue was first hauled ashore. The Getty has argued that the seizure order is invalid because no underlying crime has been proved. 
On Thursday, a ruling by a regional magistrate in Pesaro upheld an order for the seizure of the bronze statue, finding that it had been illegally exported from Italy before the museum purchased it. The Getty has made it clear that it will fight tooth-and-nail in court to keep the piece. It is expected that it will appeal the ruling to Italy's highest court."We've not yet seen the ruling and won't comment until we do so," said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.
 If the high court ultimately upholds the seizure order, Italy will still have to convince U.S. authorities to enforce the order and seize the statue from the Getty Villa.

Derek Fincham comments:
Using a domestic court to seek the seizure of an illegally exported object from another country has not been attempted before. But Italy has been at the forefront of repatriation strategies. This novel approach could lead to a new legal tool for nations of origin to pursue, if it can convince the Attorney General and a U.S. District Court to enforce this seizure order. The Getty appealed the earlier ruling, and they did so for a reason, this case could set a precedent which would open up museums to seizure suits in the nation of origin. It should be interesting to watch this dispute continue. 

Sources: Jason Felch, 'The Amazing Catch They Let Slip Away', Los Angeles Times May 11, 2006

Jason Felch, 'Italian court upholds claim on Getty bronze' Los Angeles Times May 4th 2012.

Photos: Crusty bronze from Chasing Aphrodite blog, patinated from Wikipedia

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