Italy’s supreme court has ruled that the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles must return an integral part of its collection, the bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth, to Italy. The Getty was quick to fight back however, insisting no wrongdoing saying that the statue “is not and never has been part of Italy’s cultural heritage”.
The court ruling was handed down earlier in the week after a long dispute over the ancient Greek sculpture that was found by Italian fishermen in 1964, sold numerous times and finally acquired by the Getty for around $4m in 1977. The ruling for the statue was justified by the court because it was found in Italian waters, by fishermen aboard an Italian ship and using the ship’s tools, qualifying for state territory and making the statue subject to Italian cultural heritage laws.
The Getty was arguing that the statue was actually discovered in International waters, voiding the court ruling. “The statue is not and never has been part of Italy’s cultural heritage,” says Lisa Lapin, the vice president of communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust, in a statement. “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.”
Silvia Cecchi, a Pesaro prosecutor, told Italian media that the court ruling was “the final word from the Italian justice system” and that the statue “must be returned”.
“We will continue to defend our legal right to the statue,” Lisa Lapin said. “We believe any forfeiture order is contrary to American and international law.”
The statue has been on display at the Getty Villa in Malibu since 1978. It’s an incredibly rare life-sized piece that dates to around 300BC. It is believed to have been taken from Greece by the Romans and to have been lost in transit from Greece to Italy.
The Getty has continued to fight back and in an official statement, they cited a 1960’s ruling by the same court saying there was no evidence the statue belonged to Italy.