Over the past week, many news organizations have been writing about a reverse decision by the Court of Cassation in Italy that the statue of the Victorious Youth owned by the Getty for more than 40 years is part of Italy’s cultural heritage.
The Getty believes strongly that it acquired the statue legally, and will continue to fight for its legal right to the Victorious Youth. The Court of Cassation has not yet released its formal ruling, so we do not yet know on what grounds it reversed its 50-year-old decision that there is no evidence that the statue belongs to Italy. Until we see that decision, we cannot determine with certainty our next legal steps. But rest assured, we will continue to assert our right to keep the Victorious Youth in its home at the Villa, where it is on display and in our care. We hope you will come and see it for yourself.
The Getty Bronze has been on view at the Villa for more than 40 years. Kept in a climate-controlled gallery, it is one of the few life-size Greek bronzes to have survived to the present day. The striking statue is of a naked youth, standing with his weight on his right leg, crowning himself with a wreath, probably olive. The olive wreath was the prize for a victor in the Olympic Games and identifies this youth as a victorious athlete. The eyes of the figure were originally inlaid with colored stone or glass paste, and the nipples were inlaid with copper, creating naturalistic color contrasts.
Found in the sea by fishermen in international waters in 1964, this statue’s origin is unknown, but either Olympia or the youth’s hometown is possible. Romans probably carried the statue off from its original location during the first century B.C. or A.D., when Roman collecting of Greek art was at its height. The ship carrying it may have foundered, which preserved the statue for centuries in the sea.
The Getty purchased the statue in 1977, after Italy’s Court of Cassation ruled in 1968 that there was no evidence the statue belonged to Italy. Over the last 10 years or so, the Italian Culture Ministry has waged a legal fight to force the Getty to send the statue to Italy. Recently, the Ministry succeeded in having the Court of Cassation reverse its earlier ruling and uphold an Italian Order of Forfeiture.
Here is a sampling of media editorials and coverage on the issue:
- “Why the U.S. Should Not Assist Italy in Forfeiting a Rare Bronze,” The New York Times, December 10, 2018
- “Italy Gets Greedy in Claiming the Getty Bronze,” Bloomberg, December 5, 2018
- “The Getty Bronze belongs right here in its climate-controlled L.A. Villa,” Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2018.
- “Getty loses in Italy’s Supreme Court. What does that really mean for the museum’s prized ‘Victorious Youth’?” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2018
And here is our statement and a timeline of the statue’s history:
We will continue to defend our legal right to the statue. The law and facts in this case do not warrant restitution to the Italian government. The statue is of ancient Greek origin, was found in international waters in 1964, and was purchased by the Getty Museum in 1977, years after Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, concluded in 1968 there was no evidence that the statue belonged to Italy. 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.
Moreover, the statue is not and has never been part of Italy’s cultural heritage. Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object. Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.
We believe any forfeiture order is contrary to American and international law. Our priority is to continue our productive and long-standing collaborations with our many Italian colleagues and the Cultural Ministry. It is unfortunate that this issue has been a distraction from that important work.
Over more than four decades, the Getty has worked closely with Italian colleagues in conserving, protecting, researching and celebrating Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage. The Getty Foundation has supported 137 grant projects on Italian art totaling more than $20 million, awarded more than $500,000 in fellowships to Italian scholars, and hosted more than 130 Italian scholars, fellows, and interns supported by grants totaling over $1.3 million. Since 1984, the Getty Museum has lent more than 130 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and other works of art to over 50 different institutions in Italy. Similarly, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) has, since 1991, lent 70 prints, drawings, manuscripts, and rare books to exhibitions in Italy.
The Getty has presented more than two dozen exhibitions in collaboration with institutions in Italy, a number of them arising from cultural agreements between the Getty and the Italian Ministry of Heritage, Culture and Tourism, the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Sicilian Identity, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the Musei Capitolini, Rome, and the Museum of Aidone. As part of these collaborations, the Getty undertook the conservation of five highly significant works of ancient art and a collection of 37 votive offerings, all belonging to Italian museums.
Other collaborative efforts have included decades-long research and conservation projects funded and coordinated by the Getty, including the Panel Paintings Initiative, Mosaikon, Herculaneum fresco restoration, Keeping it Modern, and many others.
We very much value our strong and fruitful relationship with the Italian Ministry of Culture and our museum colleagues in Italy. A more detailed account of the Getty’s funding and other support for Italian cultural heritage is available here.