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Getty museum sends three artifacts back to Italy

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles returned three ancient artifacts to Italy this week, in their ongoing legal battle over looted art.

The return could act as a test case for future claims against the Getty and other U.S. museums involving art acquired through Paris-based American art dealer Robert Hecht.

Among the pieces returned is a 2,300-year-old Greek vase, known as a krater, painted by Asteas. A bronze Etruscan candelabrum and stone inscription were also returned.

The Italian government had filed a claim with Los Angeles legal authorities. The museum is hoping to build goodwill with the Italians ahead of further lawsuits involving 42 pieces of art in the collection of the Getty museum.

"The Getty Museum, conscious of the illegal origins of the works, decided spontaneously to restore them to Italy," Italy's minister of culture said Wednesday, after the pieces arrived back in the country. Italy refused to drop further legal claims in exchange for the return of the krater.

The Getty admitted no wrongdoing, but issued a statement saying it returned the krater in "the interest of settling the litigation." It added that it returned the other two objects "on its own evaluation of evidence presented by the Italian government."

The trial of Marion True, the Getty's former chief curator of antiquities, on charges of conspiring with Hecht to traffic in looted art resumes Nov. 16 in Rome.

Italy has legal action pending in the U.S. in an attempt to reclaim objects from six other museums and from some private collections. In its statement of claim, Italian authorities used photographs of objects that were seized at the warehouse of Giacomo Medici, who has been convicted of trafficking in looted antiquities.

In one case yet to be played out, Hecht sold a Greek vase to the Met in 1972, saying he had bought it from a Lebanese man whose family had acquired the vase legally. But in a memoir seized during the investigation by Italian authorities, Hecht said he purchased the vase from Medici.

Italy says the returned objects will be displayed in a museum.

The Getty also faces charges that it bought looted antiquities belonging to Greece.

Date: 11.11.2005

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