Getty letters analysed in Marion True trial

The letters aid claims that the Getty Museum were aware of the origin of the illegally excavated artefacts



The latest hearing in the ongoing trial of Marion True, former curator of antiquities of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and US antiquities dealer Robert Hecht, who stand accused of conspiracy to receive illegally-excavated antiquities, took place at the end of December (after our January issue had gone to press).

The proceedings resumed with the testimony of Daniela Rizzo, expert witness for the public prosecutor. It concerned four letters dating from 1985-87 which the prosecution claims suggest that the curators of the Getty Museum were aware of the origin of the artefacts in question.

One letter dated 24 October 1985 by Arthur Houghton, then curator of the museum’s Greek and Roman Antiquities section, mentions three pieces from the Tempelsman collection that subsequently ended up at the Getty and were recently returned to Italy as a result of agreements concluded with the former culture minister Francesco Rutelli.

A scholar from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts had contended in an article that the artefacts belonged to a single “set” that could be dated to the late fourth or early third century BC. Mr Houghton did not agree, partly because he had been informed of the provenance of the three pieces by Italian art dealer Giacomo Medici, who had acquired them directly from the finders. He wrote that Mr Medici had told him in confidence that two items had been found in 1976-77 in a tomb near Taranto, and another among the ruins of a villa of a later period, 150m-200m from the tomb. One piece apparently passed on to Mr Hecht, then to another dealer, Robin Symes, and from Mr Symes to collector Maurice Tempelsman, while two work went directly to Mr Symes, then to Mr Tempelsman.

In June 1984, 11 pieces owned by Mr Tempelsman, including the three works in question, were acquired by the Getty for $18m. Rizzo said: “It is very disturbing that a curator should be able to trace the origin of the works, but did so only in his own pressing and material interests.” The Italian State was not informed of these matters at the time.

The evidence then turned to further letters and documents were analysed, but when Ms True’s lawyers realised that these new papers had not yet been lodged, proceedings were suspended. The case was adjourned until 23 January.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Getty letters analysed'