The J. Paul Getty Museum announced Tuesday its intention to voluntarily return to Italy a marble statuette dating to the 1st century BC.
The “Statue of Zeus Enthroned” is a 29-inch-high piece thought to have been Greek in origin. Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts said the Italian government came into possession of a fragment that it believed joined the sculpture at the Getty. Italian officials tested their theory on a visit to the museum in 2014.
“The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had,” Potts said in an interview. “It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there.”
This, coupled with the fact that there was no documentation of export, led to the decision to repatriate the statuette.
The sculpture is thought to have originally been housed in the private shrine of a rich Greek or Roman home. It appears to have spent a good deal of time in the ocean, as it is partially covered with marine incrustations.
The Getty purchased “Zeus Enthroned” from Americans Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman in 1992. The Times’ 1997 obituary for Lawrence Fleischman noted that the couple agreed to donate the bulk of their collection, valued at $60 million, to the Getty in 1996. The museum agreed to purchase another portion of the collection.
At that time “Zeus Enthroned” was acquired, the museum’s senior antiquities curator was Marion True, who was later indicted by the Italian government for conspiracy to traffic in illegal antiquities. True resigned from the museum in 2005, and in 2007 then-director Michael Brand announced the museum would return a number of disputed objects to Italy. Dozens have been repatriated to Italy and Greece, while prosecutors did not pursue the case against True.
The Getty’s policy is that when a foreign government submits compelling evidence that an object in its collection was put on the antiquities market illegally, the museum will seek to return the object.
“The Getty values greatly its relationships with Italian colleagues in museums and other cultural sectors,” Potts in a statement. “The decision to return this object continues our practice of working with the Ministry [of Cultural Heritage] to resolve issues of provenance and ownership of works in our collection in a way that responds to new information as it emerges, and respects the good faith and cultural missions of both parties.”