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Marion True trial: Expert archaeologist Rizzo ends prosecution testimony

As the testimony of the expert witness comes to a close, we look at what the next hearing will entail

The long testimony on behalf of the prosecution of archaeologist Daniela Rizzo (the expert witness called by Public Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri, who first took the stand in May 2007) finally drew to a close at the latest hearing in the trial of former Getty Museum curator Marion True and art dealer Robert Hecht, which took place on 20 February. At the next hearing, scheduled for late March, Ms Rizzo will be cross-examined by the lawyers for the two defendants. The 20 February hearing also dealt with the final summary of charges against Robert Hecht who, along with Ms True, stands accused of conspiracy to receive illegally excavated antiquities. Both deny the charges against them.

At the hearing, correspondence between Mr Hecht and his clients—which ranged from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, to the Getty and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek—was used in evidence against him.

Ms Rizzo’s testimony covered the Metropolitan Museum’s famous Euphronios Krater, returned to Italy in January last year, and an Attic red-figure psykter attributed to the Kleophrades Painter—due to be returned to Italy in 2011 by the Princetown University Art Museum following an agreement reached in October 2007 with former minister Francesco Rutelli—among many other objects. She testified that the psykter was purchased by Mauro Morani, a well-known tombarolo (grave-robber) from Cerveteri, and offered to the Getty, via Robert Hecht. Though enthusiastic at first, Ms True, who was then the Getty’s antiquities curator, decided it was a fake and refused it. Mr Hecht then approached Robert Guy of Princeton, who bought it for $350,000 in 1989.

This was followed by many other examples of works—many of which have not yet been traced—referred to in Mr Hecht’s written accounts. Alessandro Vannucci, representing Mr Hecht, said that the accounts are “mere fiction”, but the prosecutor argued that the documents are factual in many respects.

The hearing also focused on an Etruscan chariot which the prosecution say Mr Hecht purchased from Giacomo Medici, the Italian art dealer found guilty in 2004 of selling looted antiquities but who remains free pending appeal. Mr Hecht paid Mr Medici $65,000, and then sold the work to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen for around $240,000. Ms Rizzo explained that the piece was one of 145 items unearthed clandestinely in 1970 at Colle del Forno, Sabina. As a result of considerable pressure, the Danish museum, which is a private institution, finally supplied a thick file of correspondence between Mr Hecht and the museum’s then director and two curators about the acquisitions and the Colle del Forno excavation.

For the defence, Mr Vannucci demanded proof that the artefacts really came from clandestine excavations, and not from [legitimate] earlier ones. The trial continues.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Marion True trial: Rizzo ends prosecution testimony'