Getty Museum Returns Ancient Roman Bronze to Turkey

Los Angeles’s J. Paul Getty Museum has removed an Ancient Roman statuary head from view at the Getty Villa and will return it to Turkey, the institution announced today, April 24. The news follows a years-long pursuit by the country to reclaim its heritage antiquities from United States institutions.

Dated between 100 BCE and 100 CE, the fragmentary bronze head was once attached to a figurative sculpture and depicts an idealized portrayal of a youth with short, curly hair and a faint beard. The statue’s eyes are hollowed out, as the original material used to create eyes and lashes has since been lost. An inscription of the Greek letter Alpha sits on the interior of the neck. While the sculptor’s name and the rest of the statue have not yet been identified, researchers traced the antiquity back to the archaeological site of Bubon, an ancient Roman city now located in southwest Turkey that was targeted by illegal excavations in the late 1960s.

The museum acquired the bronze bust in 1971 from the late Swiss art dealer Nicolas Koutoulakis, who has been linked with the looted antiquities trade and sold more than 150 objects to the Getty, 38 of which are currently on display. In 2011, the Getty returned a grave marker and a tablet manuscript that were acquired from Koutoulakis to Greece. He also sold or gifted antiquities to other prominent cultural institutions including London’s British Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC.

Timothy Potts, director of the Getty Museum, said in a statement that the institution made the decision to return the bronze after receiving information “indicating the illegal excavation” of the work from the Manhattan District Attorney’s (DA) Office, which has investigated and seized numerous looted antiquities in recent years, spurring a wave of restitutions.

“We seek to continue building a constructive relationship with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and with our archaeological, conservation, curatorial, and other scholarly colleagues working in Türkiye, with whom we share a mission to advance the preservation of ancient cultural heritage,” Potts continued. The Getty has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment. 

Within the past few months, the Turkish government has reclaimed dozens of looted artworks including eight bronzes from Bubon held in collections at the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Another significant Bubon artifact previously known as “The Emperor as Philosopher, Probably Marcus Aurelius” is currently at the center of a lawsuit between the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Manhattan DA, as the Ohio institution refuses to surrender the object and claims that there is no evidence linking the bronze to illicit trade.

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