Getty gets first loans of antiquities from Italy


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Recent traffic in antiquities between the J. Paul Getty Museum and Italy has mostly been one-way -- from Los Angeles to Italy. Since 2007, when the Getty formally agreed to return a group of artworks that Italian officials claimed were looted and smuggled out of the country, the museum has returned 39 contested objects.

But now -- as part of the same accord, which also set the stage for a broad cultural exchange -- the Getty Villa has received its first loan from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, a major repository of classical antiquities. Two nearly life-size bronze figures, found in Pompeii, will reside at the Villa for two years.


One of the sculptures, ‘Statue of an Efebe (Youth) as a Lampbearer,’ below, a 1st-century BC Roman work, will go on view at the end of April in the Villa gallery known as the Basilica. The other work, ‘Statue of Apollo as an Archer,’ left, thought to have been made in Greece before 146 BC, will be exhibited in about a year, after undergoing extensive study and conservation.

Karol Wight, the Getty’s curator of antiquities, said that authorities at the Naples museum proposed lending the two figures after the Getty expressed a strong interest in exhibiting bronzes. The Apollo is a particularly rare piece, one of about 30 large Greek bronze figures to have survived, she said, but it has languished in storage for many years, awaiting a conservator’s attention.

‘We want the partnership to be mutually beneficial,’ Wight said. ‘But of course our concerns are highly aesthetic.’

In answer to a question about the value of the visiting artworks, she would only say that they are ‘priceless.’

Both sculptures were buried for centuries after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The Ephebe was unearthed in 1925. It survived in surprisingly good condition, partly because it had been wrapped in a protective covering while the house it adorned was renovated. The figure was inspired by earlier Greek statues of short-haired, beardless young men, but -- in keeping with a Roman practice of converting sculptures into functional decorative objects -- the young man holds an ornate candelabrum.

The Apollo didn’t fare as well. It was found in 1817, broken into many pieces and its bow, arrow and quiver are still missing. Erik Risser, a conservator assistant at the Getty, will undertake what he calls ‘an unprecedented opportunity’ to dismantle the sculpture, perform a thorough analysis of its materials and investigate how it was made and repaired over the years.


The arrival of the statues coincides with an exhibition, ‘Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples,’ opening May 3 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The show originated at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., but the Getty has collaborated with LACMA on the L.A. edition. Kenneth Lapatin, associate curator of antiquities at the Getty, is guest curator of the show. Glass and silver objects from the Getty’s collection have been added to the installation and exhibition visitors will receive reservation-free tickets to the Villa.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Images: ‘Statue of Apollo as an Archer’ (top left) and ‘Statue of an Ephebe (Youth) as a Lampbearer.’ Credit: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Naples, Italy.