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Olympian Contests with Italy: Met Loses the Silver; Getty Battles for the Bronze (but teams up with Sicily)


Gaetano Armao of the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Sicilian Identity, left, and David Bomford, acting director, Getty Museum, signing a long-term collaboration agreement on Feb. 9
Photo: Maureen McGlynn © 2010 J. Paul Getty Trust

Yesterday’s announcement of a new partnership agreement between the Getty Museum and Sicily, an outgrowth of the museum’s agreement to return 40 objects to Italy, made me wonder if any similar new partnerships are being forged between Italy and the Metropolitan Museum, pursuant to the Met’s giveback agreement (excerpted here).

The Met’s spokesperson, Elyse Topalian, told me there’s “nothing to announce at this moment,” regarding Met-Italy collaborations. But she did have some news when I asked whether the 16 pieces of Hellenistic silver that had been scheduled to be relinquished to Italy last month had, indeed, left the building.

Elyse reported:

Yes, the Met has returned the 16 Hellenistic silver pieces from the third century B.C. to Italy, and, according to the agreement, they will rotate every four years between Sicily and New York (so they will be back on loan here four years from now).

The Met has just received new loans that were installed in the galleries last week: a rare, recently excavated ancient Roman dining set consisting of 20 silver objects, one of only three such sets from the region of Pompeii known to exist in the world; and an important ancient Greek kylix (or drinking cup). The dining set is installed in the Hellenistic Treasury and the kylix in the Belfer Court (both areas are within the galleries for Greek and Roman art on the first floor).

Topalian said that a public announcement of the new installation would be made shortly. Unlike the Euphronios krater, the Hellenistic silver left New York without my remembering to give you a last-chance alert. If you missed it, you’ll just have to mark your calendar for early 2014, when it comes back for a four-year term.

Hellenistic silver at the Metropolitan Museum, including the 16 objects that have just been returned to Italy

Notwithstanding the new accord with Sicily, Getty-Italy relations were shaken last week by the Italian court decision ordering the seizure and return of the Getty Bronze. Regarding this legal battle, the Getty’s assistant director of media relations, Julie Jaskol, told me:

We have asked the Court in Pesaro for a stay pending the outcome of our appeal to the Court of Cassation. We have filed an appeal with that Court. Our brief will seek to correct errors in the findings of law made during the proceeding in the Court at Pesaro.

Responding to my question about whether Italy can seize an object from an American museum on the basis of an Italian court decision, Jaskol asserted:

U.S. law does not support enforcement of an order based on a 40-year-old alleged export violation.

Time (and judges) will tell.

Regardless of what happens to the bronze statue of a young athlete, the Getty’s limestone and marble Cult Statue of a Goddess (possibly Aphrodite) has a one-way ticket to Italy at the end of this year, pursuant to the Getty’s giveback agreement.

Also as a result of that agreement, the Getty has already received several loans of objects from Italy. Similarly, the Met has received several loans, in addition to the newly installed arrivals.

The just signed Getty-Sicily agreement includes specific plans for cooperation on object conservation, seismic mitigation, scholarly research, conferences and, of course, exhibitions. The museum’s former director, Michael Brand, told me that this accord was “the result of well over two years of negotiations and planning,” which involved not only Brand and David Bomford, associate director for collections (who became acting director after Brand’s resignation) but also conservator Jerry Podany and antiquities curators Karol Wight and Claire Lyons.

Wait a minute! Is the Hellenistic silver that Italy just recovered from the Met going to be loaned to the Getty for one of the planned exhibitions? The working title of a proposed 2013 show is: “Between Greece and Rome: Sicily in the Classical and Hellenistic Period.” Its objects will come “from a number of Sicilian museums as well as from international museums with significant collections of antiquities found in Sicily,” according to the Getty’s announcement.

Morgantina, which Italy claims was the original site of the Met-relinquished Hellenistic silver, is, of course, in Sicily.

an ArtsJournal blog