The battles over looted objects have been particularly contentious between US museums and the Italian government. The Getty Villa settled many of the issues in 2007 when it agreed to return 40 objects to Italy. This case that is currently being argued in the Italian courts was started by a local prosecutor in Fano Italy. The community of Fano considers the statue of great cultural importance to the community, going so far as to erect a copy of the bronze in the town’s port.
The story of the bronze youth is less clear cut than those 40 objects returned by the Getty Villa. Whereas there was clear cut evidence for most of those objects that they were obtained illegally by tombaroli and kept in a Swiss warehouse by middlemen like Giacomo Medici, the Victorious Youth was found in international waters by unsuspecting fishermen. The case is complicated by the fact that many of those implicated are no longer with us.
The LA Times is claiming in this article to have found damning evidence that was not submitted to the court which implies that the Getty was aware that there was a ‘crime’ involved with the accession of this piece and the the museum was aware of the legal ramifications.
While the courts battle over the he said she said of the statue’s purchase and the event leading up to it, I find myself thinking about the larger question of where is the piece going to be most appreciated. I am aware that this type of subjective assessment is irrelevant in a court of law and my understanding of international law is limited at best, but I can’t help thinking that perhaps the Victorious Youth stands tallest and proudest of his victory for all to see in his specially made climate controlled room at the Getty Villa.
The Victorious Youth, who the Italian judge ruled in June to be “part of Italy’s cultural patrimony, despite the short time it spent in the country’, is the perfect microcosm of how confused this debate over antiquities and patrimony becomes. The relationship between the modern Italian state and Ancient Rome is dubitable in itself but the the Victorious Youth was itself looted in antiquity by the Romans either to be melted down or sold to an ancient antiquity dealer. So is this piece, which was brutally ripped from it’s base in ancient Olympia by the Romans, truly part of Italy’s cultural patrimony?