Guest Post: Trouble for the "Victorious Youth"

Today I’m pleased to feature a guest post by Pamelia Brown. Pamelia writes for Associates Degree [dot] com, and has a written a couple of entries there that might be of particular interest to people who read this blog.

For today’s post, Pamelia is writing about the Getty Museum’s “Victorious Youth,” a sculpture which has seen a lot of news coverage this past month:


Victorious Youth, 300-100 BCE, Getty Museum

For a work of art whose creator isn’t identified, the Victorious Youth gets a lot of press.The Greek bronze statue was discovered in international fishing waters by Italian fishermen in 1964. However, instead of revealing the discovery to the Italian government, or even returning it to Greece, the men who discovered it hid it and sold it, leading to the statue eventually being smuggled out of the country and sold at auction. J. Paul Getty, the billionaire oilman, made plans in 1972 to buy the statue despite protests from the Italian government. He died in 1976, and the Getty Museum bought the statue the next year, after the seller’s Italian attorneys made assurances that the sale was legal. That was just the beginning of the trouble.
Earlier this month, an Italian judge ordered that the Victorious Youth be seized from the museum and returned to Italy. It’s a follow-up to a 2007 agreement in which the Getty, acknowledging that many of its pieces were likely acquired illegally, announced it would return 40 of its pieces to the Italian government, though not the statue. It’s not clear how effective the order could be enforced here, but it does open the door for further negotiations with the Getty Museum. While the museum did issue a statement saying the order was “flawed both procedurally and substantively,” the following week saw the Getty announce a renewed partnershipwith Italy by working with Sicily on object conservation, and that decision also stemmed from the 2007 agreement.I think it’s a shame that a sculpture has been reduced to a prize being quarreled over by an angry government and a museum that’s probably resorted to off-the-book practices to acquire art. It makes me wonder how many times we let art be swallowed by a different story. Perhaps some kind of share or trade could be worked out, where the statue spent part of its time in the Getty Villa in Malibu and the rest of the area in Italy. I know it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s surely better than courtroom showdowns.This guest post is contributed by Pamelia Brown, who writes on the topics of associates degree. She welcomes your comments at her email Id pamelia.brown@gmail.com .

  • M says:

    Last night I received this email (also sent to Pamelia Brown) from Ron Hartwig, the Vice President of Communications from the J. Paul Getty Trust. Mr. Hartwig gave me permission to post the text of his email here, so that my readers could learn about the Getty's facts and position regarding "Victorious Youth":

    "I read your post on Alberti's Window with great interest. I want to clarify some of your facts.

    As you report, the Statue of a Victorious Youth was acquired by the Getty in 1977, but only after the Getty's legal counsel was sure we could obtain legal title to the object. The legal opinion we received from the Getty's Italian counsel was based on a number of factors, including the outcome of a 1966 criminal trial of the Italians who had purchased the statue which was alleged to be the property of the Italian State. In that trial the men were acquitted of the charges of purchasing and concealing stolen property for lack of evidence that the object was found in Italian waters.

    Then in 1968, Italy's high court, the Court of Cassation, affirmed the trial court's decision. Because the object was not found in Italian territory, it was not deemed part of the Italian State's cultural property under Italy's Law No. 1089 regarding the Protection of Objects of Artistic and Historic Interest, dated June 1,1939.

    Fast forward to 2007. Negotiations between Italy and the Getty to resolve Italy's claims for certain objects from our antiquities collection had reached an impasse over claims on the Statue of a Victorious Youth. The Italians suggested, and the Getty agreed, that the Statue be removed from the negotiations pending resolution of a lawsuit then underway in Pesaro, Italy, near Fano where the fishermen who found the Statute in international waters lived. That allowed negotiations over the other objects to go forward and ultimately Italy's Ministry of Culture and the Getty Museum reached agreement that has resulted in renewed positive relations, the latest example of which was our recently concluded agreement with Sicily for long-term loans, partnerships on projects and scholarly research.

    In the fall of 2007, after the agreement between Italy and the Getty had been signed, the trial at Pesaro ended. The verdict upheld the Getty's claim that we held legal title to the Statue. We thought that was the end of the battle.

    But, the same prosecutor in Pesaro decided to file new charges against the Getty. But this time, there was a different judge, who ruled against the Getty. We have filed an appeal of the judgement with the Court of Cassation, and believe ultimately that once again the Getty's ownership will be upheld.

    Legal battles are messy, the media coverage that attends them is often messier. But, sometimes you have to take a stand and that is what we are doing. We have legal title of the Statue of a Victorious Youth and we will defend that position vigorously. The Statue has been on display at the Getty for over 30 years.

    I hope someday you will visit the Getty Villa in Malibu and see the Statue in its own climate-controlled room, carefully protected from atmospheric damage."

  • e says:

    What a fascinating story!

    Do they have any ideas (based off style and technique) who the artist could have been? That's a funny mystery right there. Or, how did it end up in the water?

    Also, how incredibly NEAT is it that Mr. Hartwig emailed that information! M, you are amazing and your art history blog proves it!

  • The Ancient says:

    In other words, the Getty is subject to the same sort of political harassment by freelance prosecutors and judges in Italy as is Google.

    I think this says a lot more about the Italian legal system than it does the Getty.

  • M says:

    e, I'm sure they don't know who made the sculpture. Unfortunately, we don't know the names of most ancient Greek sculptors. But I did some research and found out why the sculpture was in the water: a shipwreck. Cool, huh? A lot of bronze Greek statues don't exist anymore (they were melted down and the metal was used for other purposes), but this statue escaped such a fate because it was safely underwater.

    And thank you for your comment, The Ancient. I think you bring up a very good point – this hoopla may be more of a reflection on the Italian legal system than anything else. Good call.

  • e says:

    Interesting.

    I can always count on you to answer all my follow-up questions!

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.