Judge decides Getty knew its Greek bronze was illegal

Italian minister asks for restitution of the Fano Athlete


Italy is demanding that the US authorities confiscate the Getty Museum’s bronze sculpture of the Fano Athlete (also known as the Victorious Youth), attributed to the ancient Greek master Lysippos. For the past two years, this has been the subject of a court case brought by the association called “The 100 Cities”, which maintains that it is the inalienable property of the Italian State and was exported illegally (The Art Newspaper, February 2010, p18). On 11 February, the city of Pesaro’s investigative judge, Lorena Mussoni, decided that in 1977 the museum had bought the piece “in bad faith”, in “full awareness of its illicit origins”. The 50kg Greek sculpture was fished out of the sea near Fano in 1964 and later illegally exported. The state prosecutor of Pesaro, Silvia Cecchi, is celebrating what she calls the “essentially juridical, even more than ethical or cultural, nature of this decision”, while Maurizio Fiorilli, the state advocate who worked with her, repeated the judgement that “the museum was in bad faith and concealed evidence”.

The J. Paul Getty Trust has rejected the verdict: “We are disappointed by the decision,” said its spokeswoman, Julie Jaskol: “We consider it to be flawed in substance and in its procedure so we shall be appealing to the Court of Cassation [the major court of last resort] in Rome.”

Among Italian reactions to the verdict, former minister of culture Francesco Rutelli, under whose auspices archaeological masterpieces including the griffons from Ascoli Satriano and the Euphronios vase were restituted by the US, described the decision as “closing the era of the looting of the Italian heritage”. However, Salvatore Settis, former director of the Getty Center for the History of Art, said: “I have not seen the files, but I remember that in 2007 the director of the Getty Museum told me that he had documentation that proved the export of the bronze was legal.” The current minister of culture, Sandro Bondi, said: “This is highly satisfactory and we now hope that some serious thought will be applied by the heads of the museum to our request for restitution.”