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Los Angeles museum returns ‘illegally excavated’ Italian art

A famous museum in Los Angeles will return a set of ancient sculptures that were “illegally” taken from Italy.

The J. Paul Getty Museum announced it teamed up with the Italian Ministry of Culture to arrange the safe return of “Orpheus and the Sirens,” a three-piece life-size collection of terracotta sculptures that have been traced back to the fourth century B.C.

The trio of sculptures are modeled after the mythical Greek poet Orpheus, who has been chiseled down into a seated position, and two unnamed sirens, who stand tall.

In a press release issued on Thursday, Aug. 11, the J. Paul Getty Museum said that it has removed the sculptures from public viewing after it had been notified by a “reliable” source that the artwork had likely been “stolen or illegally excavated.”

The museum has an established policy that allows it to return artifacts to their countries of origin or discovery if it’s found out that items were illegally exported.

“Thanks to information provided by Matthew Bogdanos and the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicating the illegal excavation of Orpheus and the Sirens, we determined that these objects should be returned,” said the Getty Museum’s program directors Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle, in a joint statement.

The museum added that it values its “strong and fruitful relationship with the Italian Ministry of Culture” as well as the other relationships it has in the country among archeological, conservation, curatorial and scholarly groups.

“Orpheus and the Sirens” is believed to have been sculpted sometime between 350 and 300 B.C.

The trio of Italian sculptures are modeled after the mythical Greek poet Orpheus.
The J. Paul Getty Museum via AP

It’s considered a fragile piece of art and is made from terracotta, a white slip of calcium carbonate and multicolored polychromy in orange-gold, black, red, gold-yellow, brown and pink. 

Polychromy is an ancient painting technique that artists used to make their creations look life-like with color variations, according to Getty’s “The Color of Life” exhibit from 2008.

The museum said it’s prepping the sculpture for transport to Rome, and it anticipates it will be sent in September.

Aside from the sculptures, the Getty Museum is also returning four other artifacts to Italy, including an Etruscan bronze thymiaterion (350 to 325 B.C.), a marble head statue known as the “Colossal Head of a Divinity” (second-century A.D.), a stone mold for casting pendants (second-century A.D.) and a colorful canvas oil painting from Camillo Miola entitled the “Oracle at Delphi” (1881).

Researchers at the Getty Museum and independent scholars reportedly determined that these pieces of art should be returned.

The Italian Ministry of Culture will add the returned artifact to its collection.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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