Looting Matters: The Fano Athlete and Its Acquisition by the Getty

Jan 15, 2010, 12:01 ET from Looting Matters

SWANSEA, Wales, Jan. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the release of new papers relating to the acquisition of the classical bronze statue by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1977.

In 1977 the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired an important classical bronze from a Munich based consortium. It appears that the statue had been found in the international waters of the Adriatic in the summer of 1964. It was landed by fishermen at Fano, Italy. The statue was then apparently taken to the town of Gubbio where it was viewed by the Basel-based dealer Elie Borowski. The athlete left Italy and was acquired by a Munich-based consortium known as the Artemis group.

Italy has been renewing claims for the Fano athlete even though it is possible that it was found in international waters. The fact that the find was made in the mid 1960s, and therefore before the 1970 UNESCO Convention on cultural property, has meant that Italy's case was perceived as being less strong. Michael Brand, the director of the Getty, has made it clear in a March 2008 interview with journalist Lee Rosenbaum that he considered 1970 as the clear marker for disputes over cultural property, and he specifically rejected claims on the statue.

The case of the Fano athlete is thus different to the material that Italy has reclaimed from North American public and private collections in recent years. Well over 100 items have been returned but all were acquired subsequent to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Among the pieces was the Euphronios krater decorated with the death of Sarpedon at Troy, as well as a range of objects from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Princeton University Art Museum. The Getty itself returned several pieces.

Jason Felch writing in the LA Times has now published new documents relating to the acquisition of the Fano Athlete. Correspondence reveals that J. Paul Getty, who died in 1976, had not wanted to acquire the statue unless certain legal points with Italy were resolved. It seems that after his death those questions were left unanswered.

It appears that the Getty did not carry out a rigorous due diligence search before the acquisition in 1977, and that may strengthen Italy's claims on the statue.


SOURCE Looting Matters