December 8, 2020

Italian Senator Margherita Corrado commenting on two suspect Roman altars at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art

Last week Italian Senator Margherita Corrado (5-star Movement) signed a motion to create an organization to recover works of art that have left the national territory of Italy.  Signed by many senators of the Movimento 5 Stelle, the motion undertakes to create "a special independent body that has, as its institutional purpose, the recovery of works of art illegally removed from the national territory, activating all remedies and the legal instruments that the legal system makes available for this purpose". 

Her motion calls for Italy to look more broadly into utilizing a pool of experts with knowledge and experience concerning art and antiquities identified in circulation in the art market, as well as in private and public museum collections in order to establish strategies, both legal and diplomatic, to facilitate claims for art and artefacts whose origins are proven to be illicit. 

On December 4th Senator Corrado publicised a pointed press release via Facebook, calling out the J. Paul Getty Museum in California and the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida for having two altars of suspect origin. 

Screenshot cache: Tampa Museum of Art 

Although the find spots of these Rome artefacts are uncertain, they can be linked to the Caltilii of Ostia who built a temple and kept the status of cultores of an international religion involving Isis and Serapis in the port city outside of Rome.  At least one of the two antiquities the senator mentioned is known to have passed through the hands of Gianfranco Becchina who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. 

ARCA has printed Senator Margherita Corrado's statement in its entirety in Italian here as well as with an English translation of her statement below. 

COMUNICATO STAMPA

Due musei privati alle opposte estremità degli Stati Uniti, il Paul Getty Museum di Los Angeles (California) ed il Tampa Museum of Art (Florida), espongono altrettanti altari funerari in marmo risalenti alla prima metà del II secolo. Relativi entrambi a membri della gens Caltilia e allocati forse allo stesso sepolcro di famiglia, sono il frutto di scavi clandestini condotti ad Ostia negli anni ’70 del Novecento per essere poi esportati illegalmente all’estero. 

Nel merito, a proposito dell’ara oggi a Malibù, che reca i busti-ritratto dei coniugi L. Caltilius Stephanus e Caltilia Moschis, nell’archivio di Gianfranco Becchina è stata trovata la proposta di vendita (1980) ad un terzo museo statunitense fatta dalla sua Antike Kunst Palladion per conto di un collezionista svizzero, verosimilmente lo stesso che nel 1983 avrebbe poi ‘donato’ l’altare al Getty.

Quanto all’ara oggi a Tampa, che menziona L. Caltilius Diadumenus, riconoscibile nel busto-ritratto associato, e il suo liberto Euhodus, il portale ufficiale del museo asserisce trattarsi di un acquisto fatto con denaro messo a disposizione "dai collezionisti" nel 1991, dunque ben dopo la ratifica USA (1983) della Convenzione UNESCO di Parigi 1970 ma prima di adottare, nel 2011, una nuova "Collections Managment Policy", e rivederla ulteriormente nel 2013: una presa di distanza dell’attuale governance del museo dalla precedente strategia di incremento delle collezioni, evidentemente poco rispettosa della legalità. 

Con apposita interrogazione, pubblicata dal Senato in questi giorni, ho chiesto a Franceschini se sia a conoscenza “di indagini, eseguite o in corso, tese ad accertare modalità e tempi di acquisizione degli altari dei Caltili da parte dei musei di Los Angeles e Tampa”; nonché, “se intenda riferire quali iniziative il suo dicastero abbia assunto o intenda assumere per dimostrare ai due musei statunitensi, che oggi li espongono, l’origine ostiense dei manufatti e chiederne la restituzione sia sulla base della mancanza di prove attestanti la liceità dell’esportazione, mentre ne esistono per affermare che almeno una delle due arae fu immessa sul mercato statunitense da una società implicata nel traffico internazionale di reperti archeologici, sia, soprattutto, in considerazione della possibilità di acquisire meriti sul piano culturale restituendole al loro contesto d’origine, unico modo per accrescerne sensibilmente il valore documentale.”

[English Translation]

Statement to the Press

Two private museums at opposite ends of the United States, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, and the Tampa Museum of Art, Florida, exhibit marble funerary altars dating back to the first half of the 2nd century CE. Relative to both institutions, two of these artefacts relate to two members of the Caltilian family, linked to the Caltilii of Ostia, perhaps taken from the same family tomb, as the result of illegal excavations conducted in Ostia in the 1970s and then illegally exported abroad. 

[Documents] regarding the altar on display in Malibu, which depicts the funerary portrait busts of L(ucius) Caltilius G(aiae) Libertus Hilarus and Caltilia L(ucii) L(iberta) Felicula can be found in the archive of Gianfranco Bacchina and include a proposal made out by his company, Antike Kunst Palladion, to sell the artefact in 1980 to a third U.S. museum on behalf of a Swiss collector, probably the same individual who, in 1983, then 'donated' the funerary altar to the Getty

As for the altar to be found in Tampa, which mentions L. Caltilius Diadumenus as the person who commissioned the funerary altar for his freedman, Euhodus, the museum's official portal claims that the artefact was purchased with money made available "by the collectors" in 1991, well after the US ratification (1983) of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in Paris but before adopting a new Collections Management Policy in 2011 and further revising it in 2013: distancing the current governance of the museum from its previous strategy of increasing the collections, which evidently was not very respectful of legalities.

With a specific question, published by the [Italian]  Senate in recent days, I have asked [Dario] Franceschini [serving as Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism] if he is aware of "investigations, carried out or in progress, aimed at ascertaining the methods and times for the acquisition of the Caltili altars by the museums in Los Angeles and Tampa"; as well as, "if he intends to report what initiatives his cultural administration has taken or intends to take to demonstrate to the two US museums, which today exhibit them, the Ostiense origin of the artifacts and request their return both on the basis of the lack of evidence attesting to the lawfulness of the export, while evidence exists to affirm that at least one of the two altars was placed on the US market by a company involved in the international traffic of archaeological finds, and, above all, in consideration of the spirit of cultural diplomacy, returning them to their original context, whereby they can be studied in their rightful context."