The legal gloves are off and the cross-Atlantic battles have officially begun between a powerful museum in Los Angeles and the government of Italy over… a two-thousand-year-old Greek statue.
The J. Paul Getty Museum is asserting its right to keep an important Greek statue after Italy’s highest court rejected an appeal and ordered the artwork returned immediately.
“Victorious Youth,” a life-sized bronze statue dating from 300 B.C. to 100 B.C., is one of the highlights of the Getty’s impressive collection that thousands of people visit daily.
An Italian court first ordered the statue seized and returned almost a decade ago in 2010, when the country started a campaign to recover antiquities looted from its territory and sold to museums and private collectors around the globe.
But the Getty says Italy has no legal claims to the bronze statue, which was pulled from the sea in 1964 by Italian fishermen and ultimately purchased by the museum in 1977 for $4 million where it’s been on display ever since.
In a statement this week, the Getty said it would “continue to defend our legal right to the statue,” arguing that neither the law nor the facts in the case support returning the statue to Italy.
The Getty argues that the statue is of Greek origin, was found in international waters and has never been part of Italy’s cultural heritage.
“Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statute an Italian object,” the Getty said.
The statue, nicknamed the “Getty Bronze,” is a signature piece for the museum. Standing about 5 feet (1.52 meters) tall, the statue of the young athlete raising his right hand to an olive wreath crown around his head is one of the few life-sized Greek bronzes to have survived.
Though the artist is unknown, some scholars believe it was made by Lysippos, Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor.
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