Copy of Victorious Youth, Fano, Italy, overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
Photo: Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, June 8, 2011
One year ago Shelley Esaak posted the question "Where in the World is Beth Gersh-Nesic?" on her About.com: Art History website. Where was I indeed? In Fano, Italy, on a press junket that met with President Gian Mario Spacca, right in front of a copy of Atlete di Fano (Victorious Youth),* pictured above. Here is the story:
One Hot Body – The Getty’s Victorious Youth (aka Atleta di Fano)In 1977, the
Unknown The sculpture before it was cleaned
Greek, 300 - 100 B.C.
59 5/8 x 27 9/16 x 11 in.
Greek, 300 - 100 B.C.
59 5/8 x 27 9/16 x 11 in.
Here’s the backstory . . . .
In 1964, on a typical summer day of commercial fishing halfway between the coast of Fano, the ancient Roman city Fanum Fortunae (Temple of Fortune) in Italy, and the Croatian coast of the former Yugoslavia, the Ferrucio Ferri, a 60-foot Italian trawler, inexplicably hauled abroad a heavy human form in its fishing net. At first, the six-men crew thought they brought up a dead body. Then they scraped away some of the barnacles and realized this fishy figure was made of bronze. Rather than report the mysterious treasure to the local authorities, Captain Romeo Pirani decided to keep this unexpected “catch” hush-hush and share with his crew the cash made from a secret sale of the object. To complete their plan, they waited until the wee hours of the next morning to sail back to port. Then, undercover of darkness, they spirited away a statue so densely covered with the crustaceans, they believed it had to be a very old work of art.
The captain took charge of the smelly bronze figure and stored it in his cousin’s garden. However, the stench from rotting fish became too powerful to bear. A few days later the statue was buried on a farm outside Fano, in a cabbage field. One month later, Giacomo Barbetti, a wealthy antiquarian from Gubbio (50 miles from Fano), looked at the bronze and identified it as a Lysippis. He offered the captain 3.5 million lira (about $4000 at the time). Captain Pirani took about $1,200 (twice his monthly salary) as his cut for the sale.
Now Barbetti knowingly entered into an art crime by not reporting his possession of a cultural object found off the coast of
By 1971, the bronze athlete had resurfaced in
The plot thickens . . . .
Enter Bernard Ashmole, the curator of Greek and Roman art at the
Meanwhile, Dietrich von Bothmer, curator of antiquities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose expertise was Greek vases, heard about the statue and informed his boss, Thomas Hoving, the director of the museum at this time. Hoving, who craved big-game art trophies, first licked his chops and then skittered out of the way – reluctant to enter into another questionable acquisition on behalf of the Met. It was 1972 and Hoving had just purchased the infamous Euphronios vase for an unprecedented $1 million. The press was already breathing down his neck looking for dirt.
Four years later, on June 6, 1976, J. Paul Getty died, leaving $700 million to the
By November 1977, the newly-christened Getty Bronze entered the Getty collection, followed by a whole bunch of second-rate antiquities that curator Jiri Frel procured through “donations.” The story about Frel’s self-serving scheme of inflated appraisals that could be used for hefty tax deductions fills several pages in Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino’s sizzler Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum, published in May 2011. The Victorious Youth makes a cameo appearance in the first chapter and again towards the end of this thriller when the Getty has to negotiate the return of numerous fenced objects. (My review for Venice Magazine, July - August 2011, will be the next post.)
Twenty years . . . .
In 1997, Giacomo Medici, a well-known antiquities middleman associated with prominent collectors, was arrested by the Italian government for amassing an enormous amount of looted art in a
In May 2005, Marion True, curator of antiquities at the
By early 2006, Philippe de Montebello, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visited
On February 13, 2010, the Italian courts ruled that the Victorious Youth must be repatriated to its shores. The Getty appealed the judgment. On May 3, 2012 the Italian court ruled once again that the statue must be returned to Italy, specifically Le Marche, probably Fano - although that part is not clear.
By October 2010, Marion True’s case drew to a close, dismissed from the Italian courts due to the expiration of the statue of limitations. Less than six months later, in March 2011, the Getty sent 46 antiquities to Italy, including the so-called “Aphrodite” sculpture which now belongs to Aidone, Sicily. (For the Italian government, the return of the antiquities seemed equal to an admission of guilt for collecting illicit antiquities.)
In March 2011, President Gian Mario Spacca of the Marche Region in
Italy is still waiting for the Getty's response.
*The Victorious Youth is known in Greek as an autostephanoumenos, a generic athlete acknowledging victory by pointing to a laurel wreath, which has, alas, disappeared.Sources:
Felch, Jason and Ralph Frammolino, Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum.