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nikos
28-10-05, 07:51
The Dark Getty Case 27 Oct 2005 15:57:00,

By Tina Valaoura





The well-known American Museum J. Paul Getty is in a tight spot. It recently had to return three antiquities to the Italian government under the charge of having looted them. Now, it is time for Greece to make the same claim. Repeating an older request, it asked the J. Paul Getty Museum to return four ancient exhibits – a golden funerary wreath, an inscribed tombstone, a marble torso dating from 400 BC and an archaic votive relief – which are ranked among the most famous of its collection, citing "lack of evidence" regarding the way and time the items were exported from Greece. The Getty Museum purchased the first three in 1993 for 5.2 billion dollars, while Jean Paul Getty himself had bought the fourth one in 1955. Former Chief Curator of Antiquities Marion True, who was forced to resign earlier this month, is the root of the problem and has been referred to the Italian Justice on the matter, while he trial is scheduled to resume next month in Rome.



Museum Prides Were Illegally Acquired


The Los Angeles Times originally surfaced the issue, followed by the Associated Press and the New York Times. The J. Paul Getty Museum has refuted past allegations on possessing illegal artifacts, however, citing US and German law enforcement agencies, the American newspaper reads that Marion True was the one to have purchased the three controversial antiquities, ie the gold wreath, the tombstone and the marble female torso.

As per the newspaper, True had bought the wreath for 1.5 million dollars from a Swiss art dealer, Christoph Leon, who had guaranteed it came from a private Swiss collection. However, German Police investigation showed that Leon was acting as a mediator for a Yugoslav and two Greeks, who had smuggled it from Greece.

As per Getty records, True first saw the wreath in 1993 in a Zurich bank vault, but did not proceed with the purchase, because she did not trust the men she was dealing with. No one can tell what really happened then, but some time later in one of her letters to Leon, she described the object as "too dangerous for us to be involved with" and cancelled the buy. However, despite her original reservations, she contacted the art dealer four months later notifying him the museum wanted to acquire the gold wreath.

Then, the J. Paul Getty Museum sent a letter to the Greek Government, informing it on its intention to purchase the gold wreath, tombstone and marble torso, requesting any information about their origin in order to assess their value.

In turn, Greek authorities asked the Getty Museum to identify the owner of the antiquities, but received no answer and later concluded the objects had been looted.

Three years after the purchase, the Greek Government made its first formal claim for their return. The letter described the objects in detail. The gold wreath is similar to those made in ancient Macedonia, the tombstone could have come only from the region of Boeotia, based on its lettering, while the marble torso of a young woman was similar to those made in ancient Athens and are rarely found outside of Greece, even today. Perhaps this is why the Getty had to pay 3.3 million dollars to acquire it. The Greek letter also described a fourth object from the museum's collection, an archaic votive relief, which had been stolen from the archaeological site of Thasos.

These are only few of the newspaper's revelations for the American museum's suspicious ignorance regarding the dark activities of its former chief curator, Marion True.

The Greeks first lodged their claim nine years ago and formally renewed it in May through diplomatic channels. As per Aristotle Papageorgiou, spokesman for the Greek Consulate in Los Angeles, a May 20 letter to the Museum from the Greek Ministry of Culture cited a lack of evidence regarding the way and time the wreath and other objects were exported. The letter said there was a strong indication the artefacts entered the art market illegally. Lazaros Kolonas, Culture Ministry Antiquities and Cultural Heritage General Manager, told the New York Times on the matter, "the Greek side is determined to proceed with all the necessary actions against all those implicated in this case."

However, bells are already tolling for Marion True. The former chief curator of antiquities resigned from her post one month ago accused of having violated a conflict-of-interest policy, after securing a 400,000-dollar loan to buy a vacation home on the Greek island of Paros. In November, she will stand trial in Italy charged with criminal association and receiving stolen goods.