Lawyers for the J. Paul Getty Museum have determined that half the masterpieces in its antiquities collection were bought from dealers suspected of selling artifacts embezzled from Italy, according to a published report Sunday.
Getty officials knew as early as 1985 that several of their suppliers were selling artwork that probably had been looted, but the museum continued the acquisitions, according to hundreds of documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Italian authorities are demanding the return of 42 objects in the Getty collection they believe were stolen, including ancient urns, vases and a 5-foot marble statue of Apollo.
The Getty's attorneys found that the museum had bought 82 artworks from dealers and galleries under investigation by Italian officials, including 54 of the 104 ancient artworks the Getty identified as masterpieces, the Times reported.
Getty antiquities curator Marion True and antiquities dealers Giacomo Medici and Robert E. Hecht Jr. have been charged by Italian authorities with conspiring to traffic in looted antiquities. Medici, who was convicted last year and sentenced to 10 years in prison, remains free during his appeal. The trial for True and Hecht will resume in November in Rome.
In a statement released Friday, the Getty said that it had "never knowingly acquired an object that had been illegally excavated or exported."
Although dealers under investigation "have been discredited," the statement said, that "does not mean that any object acquired from one of them was illegally excavated or exported."
The statement added that, "Based upon the information and evidence that it has seen, the Getty continues to believe that Dr. True's trial should result in her exoneration."
In a 1985 memo, Getty officials learned from Medici that three objects the museum had amassed were taken from ruins near Naples decades after Italian law made it illegal, the newspaper said. The museum completed the purchase for $10.2 million.
A year later, an acting curator accused the museum in a resignation letter of ignoring problems in the antiquities department, writing that the Getty's "curatorial avarice" would lead to an investigation and the return of looted artifacts.
In correspondence with True, Medici and another dealer, Hecht, described artifacts they were offering in language that suggested they were illegally removed. In one letter, Hecht told True that an ancient urn was being sought by Italian police. The Getty later purchased the object.
In 1993, the Getty bought an ancient gold funerary wreath despite True's initial qualms that the piece was "too dangerous" to acquire. The museum later received a copy of an Interpol cable describing the item as having an "illicit origin," the Times reported.