The Goddess Goes Home

Following years of haggling over its provenance, a celebrated statue once identified as Aphrodite, has returned to Italy

This past March, the J. Paul Getty Museum repatriated the 2,400-year-old statue—the most recent of more than 40 objects at the museum that Italy said had been illegally removed. (Francesco Lastrucci)
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One consequence of repatriation, it seems, is that fewer people will see the statue. The Getty Villa receives more than 400,000 visitors a year; the Aidone museum is used to about 10,000. Tourism officials note that a Unesco Heritage Site 20 minutes away, the fourth-century Villa Romana del Casale outside Piazza Armerina, attracts nearly 500,000 tourists a year. There are plans to draw some of them to Aidone, but there is also a recognition that the town’s museum, a 17th-century former Capuchin monastery, accommodates only 140 people at a time. Officials plan to expand the museum and say they are improving the road between Aidone and Piazza Armerina.

Former Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli says the statue’s ultimate fate rests with the people of Aidone. “If they are good enough to make better roads, restaurants,” says Rutelli, now a senator, “they have a chance to become one of the most beautiful, small and delicate cultural districts in the Mediterranean.”

After the statue’s debut, monthly museum attendance shot up tenfold. Across the town square, a gift shop was selling ashtrays, plates and other knickknacks bearing an image of the statue. Banners and T-shirts bore both a stylized version of it along with the logo of the Banco di Sicilia.

Back in the United States, I wondered what Renzo Canavesi would think of the homecoming. In one last stab at closing out the statue’s new mythology, I hunted down his telephone number and asked an Italian friend to place a call. Would he be willing to talk?

“I’m sorry, but I have nothing to say,” he answered politely. “I’m hanging up now.”

Ralph Frammolino is the co-author, with Jason Felch, of Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum. Photographer Francesco Lastrucci is based in Florence, New York City and Hong Kong.


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