Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Greece prepares to welcome back home ancient treasures

Getty carefully packs funerary wreath for trip back home to Greece

Fourteen years after the J. Paul Getty Museum purchased a 4th century BC Greek funerary wreath for $1.15 million from a Swiss art dealer, 17 months after the Greek government formally demanded its return and eight months after the museum agreed to do so, the delicate gold headpiece is about to go home.

Packed in a box within a box within a box and set to travel under tight security, it’s scheduled to arrive in Athens on Friday and go on view at the National Archaeological Museum five days later, Greek Culture Minister Georgios Voulgarakis has announced.

The wreath is a wonder of artistry, made of gold foil with tiny blue and green glass inlays. Its profusion of realistic flowers and leaves is patterned after bellflowers, myrtle, apple and pear blossoms and attached to a slender gold headband. Probably worn on ceremonial occasions, it is thought to have been buried with the cremated remains of its owner in northern Greece.

Despite its small size, about 11 1/4 inches in diameter, the wreath is such a dazzler that it landed on the cover of the museum’s “Handbook of the Antiquities Collection,” published in anticipation of the 2006 reopening of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades.

Swept up in an international effort to sort out the rightful ownership of artworks removed from their homelands, the wreath has been taken out of its showcase at the Villa. It is intricately packed in an open crate that’s parked on a rolling cart in “the cage,” a subterranean, fortress-like facility used for packing, shipping and temporary storage at the Villa.

The Getty is one of several museums accused by the Italian and Greek governments of having looted antiquities in their collections. The Los Angeles institution has admitted no willful wrongdoing but has returned several objects to their countries of origin.

Citing security concerns and insurance regulations, Getty officials decline to detail transit plans for the wreath and its traveling companion, a marble statue of a young woman, or kore, which also has been on display at the Villa and is being returned to Greece after lengthy negotiations. But a team of specialists explains the labor-intensive process of preparing the wreath for its journey.

Traveling artworks from Getty collections are usually accompanied by Getty couriers. In this case, the couriers are from Greece.

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