Italy has hit out at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles for taking a "unilateral decision" to hold on to two prized works of art that Rome says were illegally spirited out of the country.
"We are surprised and disappointed," Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said in the latest salvo of a long-running dispute with what is one of the world's richest museums.
"Our position was clear. There was absolutely not an agreement. There was a draft memorandum describing the areas of consensus," Rutelli said.
The minister insisted that the fate of the Cult Statue of Goddess, often referred to as the Aphrodite, and the Statue of a Victorious Youth, known as the Getty Bronze, was still on the table before the Getty announced on Tuesday that it had broken off negotiations.
Addressing a news conference earlier Thursday, Rutelli said: "If they want to return to Italy those 26 works that they have already agreed to consider trafficked, so much the better.
"But the duty of our government is to make clear that all the museums of the world exhibiting works stolen from Italy must return them," he said.
Rutelli was responding to a letter from Getty director Michael Brand stating that insufficient evidence existed to back Italy's claims of ownership to the items.
"I cannot return objects, like the Statue of a Victorious Youth, to which Italy has by its own admission no legal claim, or objects for which there is insufficient or inconclusive evidence to support the Italian claim," Brand wrote.
The statue was found by Italian fishermen in international waters, but officials say it should be returned because it was illegally exported.
Rutelli said on Thursday: "Legally there is no doubt that (both) are Italy's," adding that the Getty had "the moral obligation" to hand them over.
"So many important American institutions have decided to give us back works of art and archaeology even before a formal agreement was concluded," he said, hailing agreements with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and Boston's Fine Arts Museum.
The agreements stepped up co-operation between the institutions in areas such as information exchange, scholarship, conservation, archaeological investigation and exhibition planning. Rutelli noted that Italy would be making a "long-term loan of a very important statue" to the Boston museum.
Source: China Daily