ROME — Even as the Italian government and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles continue their decades-long legal battle over ownership of a prized bronze statue, the Italian culture ministry this week asked the California museum to review its records for four other pieces in its collection. The artifacts were stolen or illegally exported from Italy, Italian officials said.
In a letter sent to the Getty on May 9, the Italian culture ministry raised questions about a 19th century painting of the Oracle of Delphi, an ancient Roman mosaic floor decorated with the head of Medusa, and two stone lions.
Officials said that the painting, by the Italian painter Camillo Miola, was stolen in the 1940s from an institute in the city of Aversa, that the mosaic was taken from the National Roman Museum in Rome and that the two lions were stolen from a public square in the town of Preturo, near L’Aquila.
“The Ministry wants to preserve its relations with the Getty, and counts on cultural diplomacy to resolve controversies, so we’ve asked to meet with museum officials to avoid having to take a legal route,” said Giorgio Giorgi, a culture ministry spokesman.
“And, of course, we’re asking for the bronze back,” he added.
Lisa Lapin, the J. Paul Getty Trust’s vice president for communications, said that J. Paul Getty had acquired the four objects in question in the 1950s and 1970s.
“We are thoroughly researching these objects and will discuss our findings in good faith with the Culture Ministry,” Ms. Lapin said in an email. “As always, we take these claims seriously. As we have in the past, if any of these objects were stolen or illegally excavated, they will be returned to Italy.”
Last month, Italy had announced that culture ministry officials would vet future loans of works of art to the Getty Museum from Italian museums and collections. But a major show opening on June 26 at the Getty, “Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri,” includes numerous loans from the National Archeological Museum in Naples, and other Italian institutions.
“We didn’t halt the collaboration because the Getty and the Naples museum had been corresponding for some time,” Mr. Giorgi said. “But we also wanted to give the message that it would be good to sit around a table and talk about the bronze.”
Last December, Italy’s highest court ruled that the bronze — retrieved by Italian fishermen in the Adriatic in 1964 and smuggled out of the country — should be returned to Italy.
But the Getty has repeatedly challenged Italy’s claims, insisting that the statue was bought in good faith, after it had been retrieved in international waters. In 1976, the museum paid $4 million for the statue, which was most likely fashioned in ancient Greece and appears to be one of the few surviving life-size bronzes from that era. It is now commonly known as the “Getty Bronze.”
Ms. Lapin said the Getty was defending its ownership of the statue, “through the legal process, which is ongoing. We will take all available steps to assert our legal right to the statue, including potentially through the European Court of Human Rights.”
The Getty, she said, “has deep, strong ties with individuals and institutions throughout Italy that have produced many mutual benefits, and the Getty is determined not to allow a difference of opinion about ownership of the bronze impede our warm and productive relationships.”
Follow Elisabetta Povoledo on Twitter: @EPovoledo.
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