Getty Museum to Return Illegally Excavated Orpheus Sculptures to Italy

The Getty Museum in Los Angeles will return a group of Orpheus sculptures to Italy after investigators said that the artifacts were illegally excavated and exported. In September, they will be sent to Rome.

According to the museum, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had first raised concerns about the terracotta sculptures, which are more than 2,000 years old.

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Timothy Potts, director of the Getty, said in the release that the museum “determined that these objects should be returned” by working with officials from that unit.

The Sculptural Group of a Seated Poet and Sirens, known as Orpheus and the Sirens, is a set of three sculptures that was made between 350 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E. in Tarentum, Italy. The nearly life-size figures include a pair of sirens, mythical half-bird half-female creatures known for singing sailors to their death, and a seated male poet believed to be the Greek hero and musician Orpheus.

The sculptures are thought to reference the ancient Greek myth in which Orpheus journeys to and from the land of the dead. The grouping contains traces of polychromy, indicating that they would have been colorful, and it is believed they may have been used to decorate a tomb.

The Getty is currently working on “specially tailored equipment and procedures” to transfer the extremely fragile sculptures. Additionally, the museum is coordinating the return of four other artifacts to Italy.

Potts added, “We value our strong and fruitful relationship with the Italian Ministry of Culture and with our many archaeological, conservation, curatorial, and other scholarly colleagues throughout Italy, with whom we share a mission to advance the preservation of ancient cultural heritage.”


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