Getty Museum Ignored Clues on Stolen Antiquities


Attorneys for the J. Paul Getty Museum have determined that half the masterpieces in its antiquities collection were purchased from dealers now under investigation for allegedly selling artifacts looted from ruins in Italy, reports the Los Angeles Times. Italian authorities have identified dozens of objects in the Getty collection as looted, including ancient urns, vases and a 5-foot marble statue of Apollo. The Italians have Polaroid photographs seized from a dealer’s warehouse in Switzerland that show Getty artifacts in an unrestored state, some encrusted with dirt – soon after they were dug from the ground, Italians officials say.

In response to the Italian investigation, Getty lawyers combed through the museum’s files and questioned staff members over several months in 2001, trying to assess the legal exposure of the world’s richest art institution. The Times recently obtained hundreds of pages of Getty records, some of them related to the museum’s internal review. Those documents show that Getty officials had information as early as 1985 that three of their principal suppliers were selling objects that probably had been looted and that the museum continued to buy from them anyway. In correspondence with the Getty, the dealers made frank, almost casual references to ancient sites from which artifacts had been excavated, apparently in violation of Italian law, the records show. The Getty’s outside attorney considered the letters “troublesome” and advised the museum not to turn them over to Italian authorities.


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