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August 02, 2007

Getty Folds Its Cards

When Maurizio Fiorilli told me Monday that he was close to an agreement with the Getty on the 52 disputed items in their collection, I didn't imagine that they were this close, though he did have a fax from Getty director Michael Brand on his desk with a review of the draft agreement. Today, Elisabetta Povoledo reports in the Times on the Getty's agreement to hand back 40 pieces of its antiquities collection to Italy. She writes: "Full details of the accord were not made public, but the 40 pieces include 26 works that the Getty had unilaterally agreed to return to Italy last November.... A fifth-century B.C. statue of a cult deity usually identified as Aphrodite, one of the Getty’s prized pieces, is among the works to be returned to Italy, the Italian Culture Ministry and the museum’s governing trust said in a joint statement. But discussions on the fate of another statue, a fourth-century-B.C. bronze of a young athlete that was pivotal to the breakdown of earlier negotiations, have been temporarily put aside so that an Italian court can conduct an inquiry on how the artifact was found and how it left Italy in the 1960s." This is a major blow to the Getty, and has to be seen as a significant landmark in the overall tug-of-war between American museums with antiquities collections and source countries such as Italy. Fiorilli made clear to me that this is not the end of the road for Italy's pursuit of items it believes have been looted, though he wouldn't say which museums (or curators) are next on his list. It also raises global questions about the Getty collection, and its ability to feel secure about challenges to provenance. Fiorilli told me that Italy had the evidence to demand the return of 300 pieces, but was contenting itself with this.