Getty Museum agrees to return ancient bronze head to Turkey
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Getty Museum agrees to return ancient bronze head to Turkey
Head from a Statue of a Youth, 1st century BCE–1st century CE. Bronze, 10 5/8 × 8 7/16 × 10 5/8 in. Inscribed “A” (alpha with broken crossbar). 71.AB.458

NEW YORK, NY.- The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles said Wednesday that it was returning an ancient bronze head to Turkey that it had purchased in 1971 from an antiquities dealer who sold other items to museums that were later found to have been looted.

The museum said the decision was made “in light of new information” provided by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which asserts that the object was stolen in the 1960s from a heavily plundered Roman-era settlement in Turkey known as Bubon.

Neither the museum nor investigators would describe the new information, but the office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit has in recent years been investigating the looting of artifacts from Bubon and has pursued the return of a number of bronze objects that were held by American museums or private collectors.

In one case, investigators seized a statue of Roman emperor Septimius Severus from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in another, a statue of emperor Lucius Verus from the home of philanthropist and Met trustee Shelby White.

In a statement, the Getty said “the body of the figure has not been identified, but the head has been associated by some scholars with the archaeological site of Bubon,” in southwestern Turkey. While most bronzes from the site depict Roman emperors or members of their families, “Head from a Statue of a Youth” is viewed as Roman but has not been identified as that of a specific person, the museum said. The museum said the statue dated from the period between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D.

The Turkish government has long demanded the return of items at the museum that it says were plundered. Four, including the “Head” about to be returned, were sold to the Getty between 1971 and 1982 by Nicolas Koutoulakis, an art dealer who died in 1996. In 2011, the Getty returned to Greece a carved item sold to it by Koutoulakis for $20,000 after Greek investigators showed it had been part of a funerary wreath in a Greek museum. In 2014, Bonham’s auction house returned a carved stone head to Greece after learning that the item, which had once belonged to Koutoulakis, had been looted from Crete.

“These cases raise concern that pieces associated with Koutoulakis could have fabricated or misrepresented histories,” said David W. Gill, an expert on archaeology and antiquities market.

Timothy Potts, the Getty’s director, said: “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.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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