Italy Has Regained Many Stolen Antiquities, but Its Talks With the Getty Stall

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A year after putting an American museum curator on trial on charges of acquiring antiquities illegally, the Italian government has had some impressive results. Relying on court evidence and aggressive public diplomacy, it has persuaded the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to surrender some of their finest artifacts. And ancient artworks at other museums are now firmly in Italy’s sights.

Yet negotiations have stalled with the very institution that has been Italy’s biggest target: the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, whose former curator, Marion True, is being tried in Rome. (The proceedings resume on Friday.)

Negotiations with the Getty have been “disappointing,” the Italian culture minister, Francesco Rutelli, said in an interview on Wednesday. “I don’t think they understand the gravity of the situation,” he said. “You have a major museum, and it is exhibiting dozens of stolen artifacts.”

At issue are 52 works in the Getty’s collection that Italy says were illegally excavated and spirited out of the country. People close to the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity out of concern that their remarks could arouse personal antagonism and jeopardize the talks, say the Getty has made it clear that it is prepared to return about two dozen objects on the list. They add that the Italian government has struck 6 more from the original list of 52 because the evidence does not point definitively to an Italian provenance.

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