ROME — An Italian court on Thursday ordered an important ancient Greek statue bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum seized so it can be returned to Italy.
The Los Angeles museum said it would appeal the decision to Italy’s highest court and would “vigorously defend” its right to keep the bronze “Victorious Youth” — a highlight of its collection.
The statue, which dates from 300 B.C.-100 B.C., was pulled from the sea by Italian fishermen in 1964 off of Fano, near Pesaro.
The Italian government, which has been on an international campaign to reclaim looted antiquities, says it was brought into Italy and then exported illegally.
The Getty maintains Italy has no claim to the bronze and says it bought the statue in good faith in 1977 for $4 million.
Even though the Getty is appealing the Pesaro court decision, the confiscation order is effective immediately, said Maurizio Fiorilli, the attorney representing the Italian government.
As a result, the Italian Justice Ministry will now ask the U.S. Department of Justice to seize the statue, he said, urging the Getty to resume negotiations on giving it back.
The statue, nicknamed the “Getty Bronze,” is a signature piece for the museum. Standing about 5 feet tall, the statue of the young athlete raising his right hand to an olive wreath crown around his head is one of the few life-sized Greek bronzes to have survived, the Getty says.
Though the artist is unknown, some scholars believe it was made by Lysippos, Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor.
The bronze is believed to have sunk with the ship that was carrying it to Italy after the Romans conquered Greece. After being found in the nets of Italian fishermen trawling in international waters in 1964, it allegedly was buried in an Italian cabbage patch and hidden in a priest’s bathtub before it was taken out of Italy.
The most important work to date that Italy has successfully brought back is the Euphronios Krater, one of the finest ancient Greek vases in existence.