Italy wins decisive round against American museum for restitution of ancient bronze

Seized by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Rome, which ordered the confiscation of this statue attributed to Lysippus.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in favor of Italy on Thursday in a dispute with the Getty Museum in Los Angeles over the ownership of a bronze Greek statue discovered 60 years ago by Italian fishermen. The court confirmed the decision of the Italian courts k “seize” statue called “victorious youth”purchased in 1977 by the Getty Museum, which has always refused to return it.

Baptized Victorious youth Americans, the statue was discovered in 1964 in the Adriatic Sea by fishermen off the coast of Fano (in Marche). It was said to have been sold immediately and changed 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 Demetrius Poliorcetes), reappeared on the art market in 1974, when it was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum for $3.9 million at the time. 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 Getty Foundation took to the ECtHR in 2019 to challenge the confiscation decision of the Italian courts, on the grounds, among other things, that the statue does not fall under Italian heritage. However, the court, which sits in Strasbourg, rejected the request of the American museum in a decision, saying that “The Italian authorities have adequately demonstrated that the statue is part of Italian cultural heritage”. “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 dispute between Italy and the Getty Museum 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. Founded by oil billionaire John Paul Getty, the Getty Museum is supported by the world’s richest art foundation, whose assets were valued at several billion dollars in 2009.

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