Italy wins decisive legal victory to return ancient bronze purchased by US museum


The “Statue of the Victorious Youth”, known as the “Sportsman of Fana”, is a magnificent statue from the 4th century BC that was discovered 60 years ago by Italian fishermen from the Adriatic coast.



It’s over 2,000 years old, but it’s still making waves. Rome has been trying to restore this magnificent bronze statue for decades Statue of Victorious Youthbetween seizure by Interpol and diplomatic procedures. But the Getty Museum in Los Angeles still refused to return it. The Getty Foundation asked the Strasbourg court to overturn the decision “confiscation” Italian justice took.

It was a bad result for him: the judges of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in Rome’s favor in a judgment handed down this Thursday, May 2. “We’ve been working hard” to achieve the return of the statue, the Italian Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano reacted, recalling that, contrary to his country, he prohibited any loan of works to museums.

Discovered by Italian fishermen in 1964

Also known as “athlete Fano”, a statue from the 4th century BC was discovered 60 years ago in the Adriatic Sea by Italian fishermen off the coast of Fano (central eastern Italy). It would be sold immediately and change hands several times before the Italian state could exercise its right of first refusal.

The work, which depicts a nude athlete (or, according to some, Macedonian prince Demetrios Poliorcetes), reappeared on the art market in 1974 and was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Munich at the time for $3.9 million. Attributed to the Greek sculptor Lysippus, it is on display today at the Getty Villa in the heights of the ultra-elegant Pacific Palisades neighborhood.

The statue is part of Italian heritage

The Getty Foundation took the ECtHR in 2019 to challenge the confiscation decision made in 2010 by the Italian judicial system, considering, among other things, that the Greek statue does not fall under Italian heritage. “The statue is not part of Italian cultural heritage and has never been part of it”declared a foundation official in 2018 and believed it “The accidental discovery of this sculpture by Italian nationals does not make it an Italian work”.

But in its ruling, the European Court rejected the request of the American museum and found “The Italian authorities have adequately demonstrated that the statue is part of Italian cultural heritage”. In 2019, the Italian court of cassation, which retained Getty, argued that it did “There was a continuity between the Greek civilization that spread into Italian territory and the subsequent Roman cultural experience”.

A long legal battle

Before the ECtHR, the American museum argued that the confiscation ordered by Rome violated Article 1 of the Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to property. But “The buyer of the property must carefully verify its origin to avoid possible confiscations”remind the judges.

Gold, “by purchasing the statue without any proof that its provenance was legitimate and with full knowledge of the Italian authorities’ claims about it”has the Getty Foundation “failed to comply with legal requirements, at least negligently or possibly in bad faith”.

The judges also point out that the importance of protecting cultural property from illegal export is emphasized by several international instruments, notably the UNESCO Convention of 1970. The United States is a signatory to this convention, but is not a member of the ECHR, which is an emanation of the Council of Europe, which has 46 member states.

A rich artistic foundation

The feud between Italy and the Getty is an old one. In August 2007, the museum and Italy announced an agreement to return 42 antiquities that Rome claimed had been stolen and then illegally exported.

The Getty Museum, founded by oil billionaire John Paul Getty, is supported by the richest art foundation in the world, whose assets are valued at several billion dollars. Its collections include many masterpieces of Western painting, from Italian Primitives to French Impressionists.


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