EU law rejects Getty Lysippos restitution verdict

Legal battle resumes for the Victorious Youth, which is housed at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles

There has been another twist in the long-running restitution battle between Italy and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles over the 2,300-year-old Greek bronze known as the Victorious Youth. The statue has been in the Getty’s collection since 1977. Crucially, a decision made by Italy’s court of cassation earlier this month means that the museum does not, for now, have to return the sculpture to Italy.

Legal proceedings over the ancient sculpture, which is attributed to the Greek sculptor Lysippos, must now begin again because the procedure followed was against European Human Rights legislation, according to the Italian news agency Ansa. The developments mean that the dispute could be further protracted. 

“[Italy's] constitutional court found that the Getty had been deprived of its constitutional right to a public hearing when a Pesaro court was considering the matter in 2012. As a result, the court of cassation has remanded the case to the court in Pesaro,” says Ron Hartwig, the vice president for communications at the J. Paul Getty Trust.

The statue was discovered by Italian fishermen off the Adriatic coast near Fano in 1964. Italy requested the object's return from Los Angeles in 2009, claiming that the piece had been illegally exported and acquired in bad faith.

The request was upheld in rulings by the regional court of Pesaro in 2010 and 2012, but the Getty appealed the order, maintaining that the statue was found in international waters beyond Italian jurisdiction.

In February 2014, the court of cassation remanded the case to the Italian constitutional court following an appeal from the Los Angeles museum. The constitutional court then decided that the original court hearing in Pesaro, which was held behind closed doors as is customary in Italy, was void. The constitutional court is acting in line with the European convention on human rights, which decrees that civil and criminal cases be heard in open court.

The court of cassation subsequently blocked the restitution order, so proceedings against the Getty have been rejected on procedural grounds; the case must now go back in front of a regional court in Pesaro.