Jason Felch reports for the LA Times:
When the Getty bought the Aphrodite for $18 million in 1988, the statue's importance outweighed the signs of its illicit origins. "The proposed statue of Aphrodite would not only become the single greatest piece of ancient art in our collection; it would be the greatest piece of Classical sculpture in this country and any country outside of Greece and Great Britain," wrote former antiquities curator Marion True in proposing the acquisition.
For years, the museum clung to the implausible story that the statue had been in the family of a former Swiss policeman, Renzo Canavesi, for more than 50 years after being purchased by his father in Paris in the 1930s.
It took dramatic evidence of the statue's illicit origins — and an alleged link to organized crime — to destroy the credibility of that cover story and persuade the Getty's board to return the statue.
In 2006, private detectives hired by the Getty uncovered more than a dozen photos of the statue. One shows fragments of the goddess scattered in a pile of dirt on a brown tile floor. In another, pieces of varying sizes were lined up in rows on a large, thick plastic sheet. Another photo showed the statue's marble face still encrusted with grime.
It is not clear who took the photos or where they were taken. But the fact that the statue had been in fragments and covered in dirt as recently as the early 1980s — the date on the photographs — was seen as clear evidence that it had been illegally excavated not long before the Getty bought it.
The investigators' discovery of the photos is described in a forthcoming book about the dispute. "Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum" was written by this reporter and former Times staff writer Ralph Frammolino, and will be published May 24 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Should be a fascinating work.
- Jason Felch, Getty's Aphrodite is returned to Sicily, L.A. Times, March 23, 2011, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-return-of-aphrodite-20110323,0,6998689.story (last visited Mar 23, 2011).