An Italian judge has ordered the seizure of the J. Paul Getty Museum's iconic bronze statue "Victorious Youth," which for decades has been the subject of heated debate between the Getty and Italy's culture ministry, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Getty has vowed to appeal the decision, noting that other Italian courts have thrown out previous demands for the statue, one of the few complete Greek bronzes from antiquity to survive. In 1972, billionaire oilman J. Paul Getty learned about the statue, which was found in international waters in 1964 and later smuggled out of Italy before resurfacing in Europe, where it was sold to the Getty by a Munich art dealer for $4 million. According to the Times, documents show the museum bought the statue despite the concerns of its founder, who insisted that the purchase be cleared with Italian authorities before he died in 1976.
If the ruling is upheld, Italy will have to convince a U.S. court to enforce the seizure order, but doing so may prove difficult because of the many complex legal issues involved. Instead, Italy may choose to use the recent ruling to reopen negotiations with the Getty, which vowed in 2007 to resolve future disputes outside the courtroom.
Three years ago, the museum agreed with former Italian culture minister Francesco Rutelli to return forty pieces of ancient art, conceding that they had been illegally excavated or exported from Italy. Negotiations over the bronze statue were postponed pending the outcome of that case.
"This behavior of the Getty Museum, in contrast with that of J. Paul Getty, contradicts the good faith of the [Getty] Trust," said Italian judge Lorena Mussoni. "[The museum] bought this bronze despite knowledge of the risks of an illegal acquisition."