LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — Italy's highest court ruled this week that the Getty must return one of the museum's most prized pieces, an ancient Greek bronze statue.
"Victorious Youth," a nearly life-sized bronze dating from 300 B.C. to 100 B.C., is one of the highlights of the Getty collection. It was purchased for nearly $4 million in 1977.
After an 11-year legal battle, the Italian supreme court, known as the Supreme Court of Cassation, rejected an appeal by the J. Paul Getty Museum. The museum had appealed an order in June from a judge in an Italian court in Pesaro that the statue be confiscated, the Guardian newspaper reported.
The ANSA news agency said the Court of Cassation rejected the appeal outright earlier this week.
However, the Getty Museum has vowed to continue to fight the order. In a statement Tuesday, a museum spokesperson wrote:
"We will continue to defend our legal right to the statue. The law and facts in this case do not warrant restitution to the Italian government of a statue that has been on public display in Los Angeles for nearly a half century."
The statement went on to note that the Court of Cassation had ruled in 1968 that the statue did not belong to Italy.
"The statue… was purchased by the Getty Museum in 1977, years after Italy's highest court, the Court of Cassation, concluded in 1968 there was no evidence that the statue belonged to Italy. The court has not offered any written explanation of the grounds for its decision, which is inconsistent with its holding 50 years ago that there was no evidence of Italian ownership."
This all comes amid another contested art case in which a trial began in Los Angeles federal court Tuesday for San Diego Jewish family which has sued a Spanish museum demanding that it return to them a $30 million masterpiece painting which was taken from their family by the Nazis just prior to World War II.
Victorious Youth, also known as Athlete from Fano or simply the Getty Bronze, was made by the Greek sculptor Lysippos. It was discovered by fishermen off Pesaro, on Italy's Adriatic coast in 1964, sold several times, and eventually bought by the Getty museum over 40 years ago. But Italy has always maintained that it was smuggled out of the country and acquired illegally, making its first formal request for its return from the United States in 1989.
A Pesaro court had ordered it returned in 2010, at the height of Italy's campaign to recover antiquities looted from its territory and sold to museums and private collectors around the globe.
The museum argues that the statue was discovered in international waters and pointed out that it was acquired by the museum nine years after Italy's top court concluded there was no evidence that the statue belonged to Italy, the Guardian reported.
Pesaro prosecutor Silvia Cecchi told Italian media that the Court of Cassation's ruling was "the final word from the Italian justice (system)" and that the Lysippos statue "must be returned."
Culture minister Alberto Bonisoli urged U.S. authorities to act quickly on the country's behalf to "favor the restitution of the Lysippos to Italy."
Italy's battle over the statue included a letter to the President Donald Trump from art critic Vittorio Sgarbi calling on him to ensure its restitution.
In a statement, Getty Trust spokesperson Lisa Lapin said: "We will continue to defend our legal right to the statue. The law and facts in this case do not warrant restitution to the Italian government of a statue that has been on public display in Los Angeles for nearly a half century."
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.)
for more features.