Saying it was blindsided by the decision of the J. Paul Getty Museum to end talks over disputed antiquities, Italy on Thursday lashed out at the Los Angeles institution and reiterated demands for the return of precious artworks.
Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli stopped short, however, of imposing unilateral sanctions against the Getty, such as a previously threatened embargo that would in effect end all cultural cooperation.
At a news conference, Rutelli expressed hope that talks with the wealthy but beleaguered museum could be revived.
“We were surprised and disappointed,” Rutelli said of the Getty’s announcement this week that it would return 26 looted statues, frescoes and ceramics but shut the book on discussions involving nearly two dozen other disputed items.
It was “a unilateral declaration,” Rutelli said. “The next step is up to them.”
Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, said in a statement Thursday that he was saddened by the breakdown in talks and especially by the fact that Italy’s “emotional” claims over the 2,500-year-old bronze “Statue of a Victorious Youth” seemed to be a breaking point.
Rutelli said he would travel to Boston and New York next week, where other major museums have entered into major agreements with Italy over the return of artworks. He said he hoped those agreements would encourage the Getty and spark new talks.
“What would Getty gain?” Rutelli said. “We are ready to give them artifacts on a long loan basis, important artifacts. It would enrich their exhibitions.”
He reiterated Italy’s position that it is no longer tenable that major museums exhibit looted antiquities while the countries where they were excavated turn a blind eye.
The Getty Museum has said it believes the “Victorious Youth” bronze was found 40 years ago in international waters and thus does not belong to Italy.
Rutelli strongly disputed that, saying the statue was recovered off Italy’s coast.
“As a minister, I could never [tell the Getty], ‘Keep it,’ ” Rutelli said. “It belongs to us.”