Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Fano athlete

I have earlier commented on the Fano athlete (at present in the J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. 77.AB.30, "Victorious Youth") as an example of cultural property which (literally) "surfaced" prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Jason Felch has now reported on the decision by an Italian judge ("Italian group's bid for Getty statue rejected",
LA Times, November 20, 2007). Felch reports:
An Italian judge Monday rejected the request of a local cultural group to seize an ancient bronze from the J. Paul Getty Museum, further increasing the chances that the prized statue will stay in Los Angeles.

Carol Mattusch has provided the information in a J. Paul Getty Museum publication:
The statue of the Victorious Youth was evidently found during the early 1960s at some distance from shore by fishermen from Fano, a resort town on the Adriatic Sea about halfway between Rimini and Ancona .... The statue's history over the next ten years is uncertain, for even though the Italian police apparently knew about the bronze by 1965, they were unable to locate it. Men were tried for but acquitted of harboring the statue, and it was exported, although when and to what country remains a mystery.

She noted that the statue was acquired by a Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer (with the Artemis Group) in 1971 and the bronze was then conserved.

Bryan Rostron, who published an earlier account of the Youth's "alleged history" in 1979, published an update earlier this year ("Chasing Getty's 'Youth'", The Spectator, March 31, 2007). Rostron places the find in August 1964. He then presents a version of events:
Italian law stipulates that new found antiquities become the property of the state. A crew member called his cousin, a carpet dealer, who in turn contacted a local furniture restorer. ... The statue had been bought by Giacomo Barbetti, a modest antiquarian from the mediaeval Umbrian town of Gubbio. He paid the equivalent of $3,899. It was loaded on to a fruit van at night and driven the 50 miles from Fano to Gubbio.

After further incidents, including being concealed under the stairs in the home of a local priest, it was seen by the Basel-based dealer Elie Borowski. After a tip off to the police in April 1965 the statue left Italy. It was then purchased by the Artemis consortium for US$700,000, and eventually sold to the Getty.

Rostron notes that the assertion that the Victorious Youth was found "in international waters" as "possible, but not proved". He also records the intervention of Elie Borowski in the 1966 trial against the Barbettis.

It is thus interesting to note that Felch reports:
The statue was not excavated from an archaeological site but found by chance in international waters. Experts say it was not even crafted in Italy but was made by Greek artists and lost in the Adriatic after being looted by Roman soldiers.

There is a possibility that the statue had been looted in antiquity from a sanctuary in Greece and was being carried to Italy. However one early report hinted that the wreck (if there was one) could have been medieval.

Felch also reports:
In a statement, Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said he would await more detail about the ruling before commenting. He has insisted in the past that the Getty should return the statue on moral grounds because it was smuggled out of Italy before the museum bought it.
Will the moral take priority over the legal?


Reference
Mattusch, C. C. 1997. The Victorious Youth. Getty Museum Studies on Art. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum.

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