Times Staff Writers

The J. Paul Getty Museum plans to announce today the return of two prized ancient masterpieces to Greece, which has maintained for a decade that they were illegally removed from the country, according to two sources familiar with recent negotiations.

The objects are a rare funerary wreath and a marble statue of a woman, both dating to about 400 BC. The Getty bought both objects in 1993 for a total of $4.45 million. The objects are now prominently displayed in a gallery on the second floor of the museum’s newly renovated Getty Villa, just outside Malibu.

The return of the two objects is the latest in a series of promised returns of ancient objects by the museum -- 28 in the last month alone, including several of the museum’s most prized items.


Today’s announcement, which may be accompanied by a broader cultural agreement, is expected to end a lengthy dispute with Greek cultural authorities over four objects in the museum’s collections. The Getty returned two other contested objects, a 4th century BC inscribed gravestone and a 5th century BC marble relief, in July.

But the Getty’s decision to return the wreath could also complicate matters for the museum’s former antiquities curator, Marion True. Independently of the cultural negotiations, a Greek prosecutor recently recommended that criminal charges be filed against True for her role in the purchase of the wreath.

The former curator is already on trial in Rome, where Italian officials have charged her with conspiring to buy antiquities illegally excavated and smuggled out of Italy. The Getty broke off negotiations with Italy last month after agreeing to “unilaterally” return to Italy 26 of 46 objects whose ownership is disputed.

On Sunday, neither Greek nor Getty officials would comment officially on the expected return of the wreath and female statue, citing an agreement to release the information jointly today. Greek authorities have announced a noon news conference in Athens.

“We have had very good discussions” with Greek officials, Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig said Sunday night. “When we have something to announce, we’ll announce it.”

Sources familiar with the negotiations said the agreement to return the objects came after new revelations led to progress in the decade-long dispute.


The marble torso, or kore, had until recently been claimed by both Greece and Italy.

But in recent negotiations with the Getty, Italy gave up its demand for the kore and five other objects, clearing the way for the Getty to return it to Greece.

The story of the golden funerary wreath, an explosion of solid gold leaves and stems adorned with colored glass, has emerged in media reports over the last year. In a recent meeting in Athens, Greek officials presented the Getty with new evidence that had emerged during the criminal investigation there.

As The Times reported last year, True first saw the wreath in 1992, when she traveled to Zurich and met two men in a bank vault to view the nearly 2,500-year-old antiquity. They were asking $1.6 million for it.

But the curator concluded that the men were not legitimate, and she was sufficiently disturbed by the meeting that she rejected the purchase, concluding that the item was “too dangerous for [the museum] to be involved with.”

She changed her mind four months later and recommended that the Getty purchase the golden crown in 1993 for $1.15 million, records show. Records don’t indicate what led to True’s change of heart.

Prior to the purchase, the Getty notified the Greek Culture Ministry that the museum intended to acquire the wreath, the kore and the 4th century gravestone for a total of $5.2 million. (The marble relief, returned to Greece along with the gravestone in July, had been purchased by J. Paul Getty himself in 1955 and was already in the collection.)

Greek officials said they immediately registered their objections but that the Getty went ahead with the purchases.

In 1996, the Greek ministry issued its first formal request for the return of the three objects and the marble relief.

In their demand, Greek officials concluded that the funerary wreath had been looted, because it was similar to those found in ancient Macedonia, now a part of Greece. Records show that True rebuffed the claim, saying they had failed to provide evidence it had been looted.

The dispute went unresolved for years until an investigation into the illicit antiquities trade by Italian authorities inspired Greeks to pursue their claims more aggressively.

Italian investigators have supplied their Greek counterparts with extensive evidence from their decade-long probe, including a photo of what appears to be the Getty’s wreath found in the files of another Italian dealer facing charges of trafficking.

The photo came in an envelope whose return address and postage stamp are from northern Greece, not far from where archeologists believe the wreath was found.

More recently, Greek authorities arrested a middleman in the sale of the wreath, a Greek national living in Germany. He has cooperated with authorities and provided additional photos of the wreath taken before it was in the Getty’s possession.

With the new information, Greek law enforcement officials are pursuing a criminal case against two Greeks, a Yugoslav, a Swiss dealer and True. The case is now before an investigating magistrate, who will review the evidence before deciding to press formal charges.

Greek authorities recently presented some of that evidence to Getty officials, and it contributed to the museum’s decision to return the objects, a source familiar with the negotiations said.


Nikolas Zirganos contributed to this report from Athens.