Spectacular Rome trial casts shadow over the Getty Museum
By Carola Frentzen Nov 14, 2005, 20:51 GMT
Rome - When the Getty Museum in Los Angeles opened its gates in December 1997, it was regarded as one of the richest and most modern cathedrals of art in the world.
It was already the third building for the ever-growing collection, started in the late 1920s, of the Californian oil magnate J. Paul Getty.
The museum in the hills of Santa Monica offers not only a spectacular view over the 'city of angels' but also houses some of the main works from European history, from Greek and Roman art to Modernism.
But now there is a dark shadow over the Getty treasure - there is talk of smuggling, art theft and organised crime.
A trial will begin in Rome on November 16 against the former Getty curator Marion True. The state prosecutor accuses the 57-year-old of having bought over 40 classical art works worth 20 million dollars in the 1980s and 1990s even though she knew they had clearly been taken from illegal digs in southern Italy.
'We have boxes of documents that add up to real proof,' say the prosecutors.
The investigation lasted ten years and over 200 witnesses, including art experts and museum curators, have been called to the Eternal City.
'A great international thriller,' commented the newspaper, Corriere della Sera about the investigations.
Alongside True, who has denied the allegations, the Swiss art dealer Emanuel Robert Hecht also stands accused. He allegedly was the middle man in the transfer of valuable Roman and Etruscan objects to the Getty Museum.
The trial officially began in July, but was recessed until November 16 because all of the documents had to be translated into English.
The case got going in 1995 when almost 2,000 archaeological finds from illegal digs and 400 photos of vases, amphoras and sculptures were seized in Geneva.
As a sign of 'good will' the Californian museum handed five archaeological finds to the Italian government in 1999, including a Kylix (bowl) by the Greek vase craftsman Euphronius from the fifth century BC, which had been found near Rome. Just recently the museum handed over three further artworks.
'We are sure that this will all end with an acquittal,' officials at the Getty Museum said. If the court does find True guilty of having bought artworks of dubious origin it would be a real sensation particularly for the Italians.
It would be the first time that a famous American museum will have been found guilty of dealing in stolen goods.
And it would lead to a whole series of claims for restitution, starting with the monumental Venus of Morgantina from a Sicilian dig, which is on show in the Getty Museum, and also including the silver treasure that came with it that can be seen in the New York Metropolitan Museum.
According to the prosecutors, smuggling and art theft were involved in these cases as well.
'We know that Italy and America have different ideas about cultural heritage and its ownership,' stressed a spokesman for the Italian Culture Ministry who is participating as a co-plaintiff. 'But watch out it is not okay for someone to come to Italy and get involved in illegal art deals.'© dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur