After a years-long legal battle over Statue of a Victorious Youth, a work in bronze currently standing in California at the Getty Villa, Italy’s top court (known as the Court of Cassation) ruled that the work, which is of ancient Greek origin and is commonly called the Getty Bronze, must be returned to Italy.
In a lengthy statement released in response, Lisa Lapin, the J. Paul Getty Trust’s vice president of communications, said that the Getty would “continue to defend our legal right to the statue. The law and facts in this case do not warrant restitution to the Italian government of a statue that has been on public display in Los Angeles for nearly a half century.”
The statement continues, “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.”
The Getty Museum, which is a program of the Trust along with its foundation and research and conservation institutes, purchased the bronze in 1977 and put it on view the following year. J. Paul Getty, who died in 1976, had been in talks about acquiring the statue as early as 1972 from the Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer, who had acquired it the previous year through his Artemis, S.A. (At one point, the Getty discussed acquiring the statute jointly with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, but that fell apart as the Met would have required the Getty to pay more than 90 percent of the price for the purchase.)
According to the statement issued on Tuesday, the Getty purchased the bronze after confirming that the Italian state had no claim to it. The statue, which is known as the Lysippos in Italy, was discovered in 1964 in international waters by Italian fisherman. The Getty points to a 1968 decision, also from Italy’s Court of Cassation, ruling that there was no evidence that the work belong to the Italian state. In 1973, when Italian officials requested that German authorities investigate the provenance of the bronze, it was dropped due to a lack of evidence.
The Getty pointed to a 2006 dossier that the Italian Culture Ministry sent asking that the bronze be handed over “in the spirit of collaboration between the Ministry and the Getty,” while acknowledging that the Italian state had no legal claim to the statue. In 2007, a prosecutor, Silvia Cecchi, in Pesaro, a coastal town on the Adriatic coast, filed a lawsuit in Italy against one of the finders of the statue, which was dismissed. Ceechi then took the case to another section of the same court, which ordered that the Getty forfeit the statue in 2010. Since then, the Getty has mounted numerous appeals to both the Court of Cassation and the local court in Pesaro, in a complex and lengthy set of rulings. The decision ultimately reached by the Court of Cassation upheld a lower court ruling from June that the statue must be forfeited to Italy.
According to an article in the English-language Italian publication ANSA, Alberto Bonisoli, Italy’s culture minister said, “Now we hope the U.S. authorities will act as soon as possible to favor the restitution of the Lysippos to Italy. . . . This judicial process has finally ended and the right to recover an extremely important testimony of our heritage has been recognized.” He added, “Let’s hope the statue can soon return to be admired in our museums.”
The Getty’s statement in Lapin’s name refuted these claims, noting that the statue was underwater in the Adriatic Sea for nearly two millennia and then, only briefly, in Italy. “The statue is not and has never been part of Italy’s cultural heritage,” Lapin said. “Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object.”
The statement continued, “Also, if Italy’s fundamental position is that an object becomes part of a country’s patrimony by its mere presence in the country, Victorious Youth’s 40-plus years in Los Angeles presumably give California a superior claim.”