August 31, 2006

Getty-owned antiquities return home to Greece

By Karolos Grohmann

ATHENS (Reuters) - Two ancient Greek artefacts, which were
smuggled out of the country, came home on Thursday as part of
an agreement with the J. Paul Getty Museum.

A 2,400-year-old, black limestone stele - grave marker -
and a marble votive relief dating from about 490 BC went on
display at Athens' National Archaeological Museum only hours
after being flown back from Los Angeles.

They are the first installment of a deal to send back works
of ancient art that were stolen from Greece and eventually
bought by one of the world's richest art institutions.

The stele was unearthed during an illegal dig in the 1990s
near the city of Thebes while the votive relief was stolen
almost a century ago from the French Archaeological School
warehouse on the Aegean island of Thasos.

Both will briefly be displayed in Athens before returning
to the locations where they were found, the minister said.

"The days when foreign museums and private collectors
uncontrollably bought antiquities without any identity or
passport have gone for good," Greek Culture Minister George
Voulgarakis, standing before the objects, told reporters.

The Getty has been at the center of an international art
smuggling scandal since Italian authorities charged its former
antiquities curator Marion True with conspiring to receive
stolen goods.

Voulgarakis said negotiations with the Getty were in
progress for the return of another two items, a 4th century BC
Macedonian gold funerary wreath and a 6th century BC marble
"kori" statue of a woman.

In return, the museum will receive other artefacts on
long-term loan and will be able to co-host exhibitions of
ancient Greek art.

"Greece will fight for the return from foreign museums and
collectors of every ancient Greek object for which we have
evidence that it is a product of illegal digging, smuggling or
illegal trade," Voulgarakis said.

True, who also faces a judicial investigation in Greece,
will stand trial in Italy and has since resigned from the
Getty. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Voulgarakis will fly to Germany later this week to take
back a piece of marble from Athens's Parthenon Temple,
currently held by Heidelberg University.

"We do not want to empty the shelves of foreign museums. We
want Greek antiquities to continue being ambassadors of our
country around the world," he said. "But the antiquities trade
must abide by ethical codes and legal rules."