The Getty Museum in Los Angeles will bring back to Italy a group of life-size terracotta figures depicting a seated poet and two mermaids. The group, also known as Orpheus and the Sirens, will leave for Rome in September to be exhibited in a public collection designated by the Culture Ministry.
In line with its policy of returning stolen or illegally excavated pieces to their countries of origin, Orpheus and the Sirens has since been removed from the galleries pending its return. The extreme fragility of the fourth-century B.C. – originally the statues were polychrome, with traces of color ranging from golden orange to pink, red, black, and brown – requires special equipment and procedures for the move to Italy, an area where the Getty has extensive experience.
Since 2006, the statues, believed to be from the Taranto area, have appeared in a list of artifacts that Italy claimed to possess. The return follows an investigation conducted by Matthew Bogdanos of the Manhattan Attorney’s Office, which specializes in fighting the antiquities trade, which has led to the return of 142 archaeological finds to Italy in recent days, many of them from the collection of the New York financier Michael Steinhardt.
“Thanks to their work, we realized that these objects needed to be returned,” Timothy Potts, the director of the Getty, said in a statement released by the museum. A colossal head of a god from the second century AD will also be returned, a stone mold for casting ear pendants from the same period, an 1881 oil painting entitled “The Oracle at Delphi” by the Neapolitan painter Camillo Miola (called Biacca) and an Etruscan censer from 4th century BC bronze The first three tracks were purchased by Getty in the 1970s and the fourth in 1996.
No one has ever been exhibited in recent years. “We value our excellent relationship with the Ministry of Culture and with our colleagues across Italy, with whom we share the mission of protecting cultural heritage,” said Potts. Getty’s relations with Italy have not always been beauty-oriented: the California museum was at the center of disputes over the purchase of illegally excavated artworks in the early 2000s, and its former curator Marion True ended up in court in Italy. More recently, the Getty has been at the center of a tug-of-war with Italian justice over a bronze statue – the victorious athletes – attributed to Lysippus, who was rescued by fishermen in the Adriatic Sea in 1964, and which Italy was strong from a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, has been demanding repatriation for years.
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