Elisabetta Povoledo has an article in today's NY Times on the Morgantina Aphrodite currently on display in the Getty Villa. I've written about this particular dispute many times, most recently in relation to the Getty's Francavilla Marittima project which brought together experts to try and determine where precisely the statue originated.
Here's an excerpt:
In the Aidone Archaeological Museum, which houses artifacts from a nearby dig at an ancient Greek settlement called Morgantina, visitors settle for a large poster at the entrance depicting the statue and announcing a national campaign to bring it back.
It's an interesting article which summarizes Italy's position, and why repatriating antiquities means so much to individual communities both because of the cultural wealth, but also in terms of new visitors. That may also indicate why the institutions currently holding them are loathe to return them even though they may have been acquired without enough due diligence of checking into their provenance.
“This is her rightful place,” said Nicola Leanza, the culture minister for Sicily, who, like many others, argues that the goddess was illegally excavated from Morgantina.
The Getty, which bought the statue in 1988 for $18 million, isn’t so sure.
For nearly two decades it fended off the Italian government’s sporadic claims to the sculpture. But as the demands grew more pressing, the Getty acknowledged that there might be “problems” attached to the acquisition. In November it announced that it would study the object and reach a decision on whether to hand it over within a year.
“We are on target to achieve that objective,” Ron Hartwig, a Getty spokesman, said in an e-mail message. (The museum has already offered to transfer title to the statue.)
Yet the people of Aidone are tired of waiting. For this town the statue has become a blazing symbol of Italy’s legal and moral battle against foreign museums and private collectors that bought archaeological artifacts with hazy backgrounds, plundering the nation of its heritage.