Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Italian American Magazine Calls for End to Case Against Marion True

Primo Magazine-A magazine for and about Italian Americans (see, has asked Italy to end its case against Marion True. See


One cannot talk about repatriation of artifacts without mentioning Italy’s case against Marion True.

Not all lovers of Italian culture are Italian. True is one such person. A native of Oklahoma, True is the former antiquities curator at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. An expert in classicism and ancient Mediterranean culture, she was in charge of the Getty’s acquisition of artifacts and relics. She helped to establish the renowned Getty Villa, located in the hills outside LA, filled with items of antiquity from ancient Rome and Greece. Thanks in part to True’s efforts, the Getty rose to become one of the top art museums in the world within a 20 year period.

Now True’s world is turned upside down. She is the first American museum antiquities curator ever to faces criminal charges in Italy for trafficking in illicit artifacts.

Italy’s case against her is more eventful than justifiable. Trial proceedings in Rome are tarrying. Four years and six months into the case and the prosecution has yet to rest. The defense phase may take another four years. The presiding judge will retire in three. Meanwhile a host of issues between the Italian government and America’s museums have been settled.

One wonders what good can still come of the case.

Damage done to Italy from True’s alleged crimes is resolved. The Getty returned to Italy many of the suspected artifacts mentioned in the trial. Civil charges against True were dropped last year. A similar criminal case in Greece was dismissed earlier because the statute of limitations had run out. Most American museums have changed their acquisition policies to reflect greater compliance with Italian patrimony laws. Italy’s message has been received.

The prosecution’s case adds to the burden of justifiability. The convoluted nature of the antiquities trade makes it so. Too long is the line of buyers and sellers, brokers, middlemen and women, conservators, auctioneers, and private collectors to reasonably conclude True knew she was buying hot merchandise. Weak circumstantial evidence has led prosecutors to offer guilt by association. Touted are the curator’s sporadic dealings with suspicious collectors, i.e., a thank you note from her to a convicted smuggler on an unrelated matter is entered into evidence. Another tack is criminal negligence. A patronizing tone by Italian archeologists accompanies the theory that True should have known artifacts were stolen based on her extensive experience and education.

The case is unnecessary and unfounded. Italy should drop the charges against her.

At a minimum, I really have to wonder why this case has dragged on for over four years without a resolution.

At this late juncture, a cynic might conclude that proceedings have been delayed so that a resolution can be timed to coincide with the U.S. State Department's reconsideration of the current MOU with Italy, which expires, unless renewed, in January 2011.

Such a resolution will certainly get more press than ICE's recent seizure of Italian pottery, which was announced shortly before CPAC takes public comments for its interim review of that agreement.

The Italian cultural bureaucracy and its allies in the archaeological community have certainly played the media card to advance their interests in the past. It would, therefore, not be all that surprising then if justice for Ms. True has been held hostage on account of some media strategy designed to further Italy's larger interests in renewal of the current MOU.

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