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Prized Greek bronze sculpture can be retrieved by Italians from US Getty Museum, ECHR rules

According to a unanimous ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Italy is allowed to take back an ancient Greek bronze statue, named Victorious Youth or Atleta di Fano, from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Italy has been campaigning for years to have the prized antique returned to its country of origin, claiming the bronze is an important part of its cultural heritage.

The Getty Museum bought the statute for $3.98 million in 1977, then the highest price ever paid for a statue, and it has been on display at the Getty museum since 1978.

The J Paul Getty Trust claimed the Italian campaign infringed upon its property rights, arguing that it had purchased the statue legally.

In 2010, a local Italian court ordered the statute to be returned but the Getty Museum appealed, first in Italy and later with the ECHR.

On May 2 this year, the ECHR unanimously decided in favour of the Italians who said the statute was illegally purchased and ruled that the Italian authorities acted with the purpose of recovering an unlawfully exported piece of cultural heritage.

It noted that several international instruments stressed the importance of protecting cultural goods from unlawful exportation and that States can take legitimate action to protect and recover their cultural heritage.

The Court further held that owing to the Trust’s negligence or bad faith in purchasing the statue, despite being aware of the Italian claims and the efforts to recover it, the confiscation order was proportionate.

Maurizio Fiorilli, the attorney for the Italian Government, called the ruling “a victory for culture”.

The Trust said it would continue fighting to keep the statute and most likely will ask the ECHR’s Grand Chamber for a final decision.

News portal AP noted that ECHR rulings are binding on those that are party to it. The US is not but has a tradition of judicial co-operation with Italy.

The bronze sculpture was rediscovered after being picked up in the nets of an Italian fishing boat in 1964. It was sold within Italy and then shipped on to a German auction house. Some time later the Getty Foundation purchased it.

The piece depicts a life-sized man and dates back to between the fourth and second centuries BC.

Art experts have claimed it was created by the Sicyon artist Lysippus, considered one of the three greatest sculptors of the Classical Greek era and personal sculptor to Alexander the Great.

Some scholars argue that the artwork was originally lost in the Adriatic Sea along with the ship that was carrying it from mainland Greece to the Italian peninsula in Roman times – possibly heading towards the port of Ancona, given where it was initially rediscovered.

In 1969, Italy established a special Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage unit of its police force to identify and seek the return of Italian artefacts and artworks.

There is a dedicated museum of successfully recovered illegally exported items called The Museum of Rescued Art.

Source: Brussel Signal