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What’s Missing from the Princeton/Italy Accord?

It took a while, but the restitution agreement with Princeton University that Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli prematurely announced in New York last June (after which Princeton declared that nothing had been finalized) has finally come to pass. The details of the agreement are here.
But what’s missing from Princeton’s announcement is any clue as to what evidence altered the university’s previously stated position that “a search of the museum records finds no indication that there was anything improper in the acquisition.”
Cass Cliatt, Princeton University’s media relations manager, who made the above statement last year, told me yesterday that until the agreement is signed in Rome on Oct. 30, she cannot comment on why her institution now considers the give-backs appropriate.
It’s important that these details eventually be disclosed: As the museum community ponders what constitutes appropriate reason to relinquish their holdings to foreign claimants, they need to know what standards other colleagues have already applied in resolving these thorny issues. The public whose interests these museums and their collections serve also has a legitimate interest in full disclosure. As in the recent Getty give-back agreement, Princeton’s announcement does not specify which “works of great significance and cultural importance” will be loaned by Italy to sweeten the deal.
As is becoming standard boilerplate in these deals, the latest agreement also involves research and educational collaborations between the two sides. But the borrowed works—including objects previously owned by Princeton that will now be regarded as loans from Italy—can only remain here for a maximum of four years. That’s a limitation imposed by Italian law, which the Getty Museum’s director, Michael Brand, recently told me he would like to see changed.
Other coverage of the Princeton accord has appeared in Bloomberg and the NY Times.

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