Aphrodite statue a step closer to Italy

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LOS ANGELES -— The J. Paul Getty Museum inched a step closer to relinquishing ownership of one of its most prized artifacts, a 2,400-year-old statue of a goddess [often called 'Aphrodite of Morgantina'] claimed by Italy, at a conference of international experts to discuss the artifact this week, its director [Michael Brand] said.

The Getty has not reached a formal conclusion based on the conference, which was convened at the museum on Wednesday and was closed to the public. But museum officials and some of the experts who attended said their discussions buttressed what the museum says are its own suspicions that the statue, acquired by the Getty in 1988, might have been illegally excavated in southern Italy...

The statue, a rare example of a cult figure considered the embodiment of a deity and used in Greek temple rituals, is viewed as the most historically significant artifact that Italy is demanding that the Getty return. The museum bought the piece for $18 million, a record for an ancient artifact at the time of its purchase...

The fate of 21 other objects remains unresolved. For the moment there are no negotiations with the Italian government, Mr. Brand said. He also said the museum had no intention of returning a prized bronze sculpture taken from the sea in international waters to which he said Italy had no legal claim.

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