The Getty Museum in Malibu, California, is refusing to return two important statues that the Italian government claims were removed illegally from the country. The two works in question are the Venus of Morgantina, a marble statue of over two metres high from the 5th century BC that the museum bought in 1988, and the so-called Fano Bronze, dated to the 4th century BC and bought by the Getty museum in 1977. The statues are among 52 works held by the museum that the Italian government argues have at some point been smuggled illegally out of the country before being sold on by dealers to the Getty. However, in an eight-page letter to Italys arts and heritage minister Francesco Rutelli, the Getty Museums director Michael Brand argues that the provenance of the Venus of Morgantina is unclear, and that the Fano Bronze was found by fishermen in waters off Fano that were nevertheless outside Italian jurisdiction. Although Brand said the museum would return 26 of the 52 contested works, the refusal to return the Venere and the Fano Bronze is likely to lead to a major rift between the parties. Rutelli has expressed his surprise and disappointment at the decision and said that the Italian government would consider its next step carefully. Among the possible repercussions of the Gettys decision is an end to all cooperation between it and Italian museums. Investigations by the ministry of arts and heritage suggest that some 20 museums around the world contain archaeological treasures acquired through illegal excavations and smuggled out of Italy.
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