The Italian Senate passed a resolution last week that politicians say will ultimately strengthen the government’s position in fighting complex restitution cases. Using the announcement as a platform, Massimo Seri, the mayor of Fano, renewed calls for the Getty Museum in Los Angeles to return the “Victorious Youth” (aka “Atleta di Fano”), the Greek bronze dating from 300 to 100 BC the subject of Italy’s most publicized international heritage dispute.
An unrelated government document released last year and seen by The arts journal, indicates that the Italian Ministry of Culture has effectively embargoed the American museum because of the saga. However, requested by The arts journal If the Getty Museum intends to return the bronze, a museum spokesperson pointed to a 2018 statement that said, “We will continue to defend our legal right to the statue.”
According to the resolution, the Italian government committed to assigning a smaller number of district magistrates to restitution cases “to allow greater specialization”, to favor the training of magistrates in cultural heritage law and to encourage universities to teach legal archeology in the relevant courses. In addition, the government will collaborate with public broadcasting service Rai to raise awareness among citizens about restitution through programs, the resolution said.
Authored by Senator Margherita Corrado, the resolution was unanimously approved on Wednesday by the Senate’s cultural commission, made up of 23 members and chaired by socialist Riccardo Nencini.
“Italian legal proceedings against those who steal and illegally exchange items are often too long and we want to streamline these processes,” explains Corrado. The arts journal. The senator highlighted the importance of the fact that the relevant ministers gave the green light to the resolution at the draft stage. “The previous government (led by Giuseppe Conte) took a hard line on restitution. We now know that (new Prime Minister Mario) Draghi is also sensitive to the subject,” she says.
In a press release published on Wednesday, Seri, who has always campaigned for the return of the bronze, declared: “This act gives Italy an instrument to regain possession of the artistic heritage (…) Senator Nencini confirmed that the first revolutionary act could be to recover Atleta di Fano.”
In April, Seri publicly called on the government to make bronze the emblem of a meeting of international culture ministers as part of the G20 Leaders’ Summit, which Italy is hosting this year. His proposed initiative was not accepted.
The Victorious Youth, a five-foot statue of a Greek athlete now worth about $16 million and one of the few surviving life-size Greek bronzes, was discovered by Italian fishermen in the offshore sea de Fano in 1964, sold to Italian Dealers and purchased by the Getty Museum for $4 million in 1977.
The Italian government first requested the bronze’s return in 1989. Unlike previous rulings by Italian courts, magistrates in Pesaro concluded in 2018 that Italy had a legal right to the statue. While the Getty Museum immediately challenged the decision, Pesaro’s ruling was later upheld by Italy’s highest court. In response, the museum reiterated its claims that the bronze was found in international waters and that “its accidental discovery by Italian citizens did not make the statue an Italian object.”
A diplomatic standoff ensues. Asked by the Senate cultural commission if the Torlonia marbles— one of the most beautiful sets of Greco-Roman antiquities in the world still in private hands — would be exhibited at the Getty Museum, the Italian Ministry of Culture published an internal communication on June 24, 2020 which said: “After the refusal of Getty Museum to recognize the sentence of the Court of Cassation (…) the ministry has limited its relations with the American museum to projects already initiated.
In an email exchange, a museum spokesperson said The arts journal: “During the pandemic, the Getty did not have the opportunity to discuss the bronze with the Italian government.” The Italian Culture Ministry had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
UPDATE August 12, 2021: The title and first position have been changed from the original version to better reflect the content of the article.