Getty to give `stolen' art back to Italy

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THE J PAUL Getty Museum in Los Angeles has volunteered to return three artworks to Italy after finding evidence that the pieces - a Greek vase, a torso of Mithras and a Roman bust - were probably stolen.

The gesture by one of the richest private collections,which has suffered accusations of improper acquisition practices for many years, appeared to be part of a strategy by the Getty to put itself above reproach in the art market.

Although the museum has never been found guilty of knowingly acquiring stolen or illegally exported property, the extent of its buying power has raised questions about the authenticity and provenance of its collections.

The most valuable of the three pieces is a terracotta kylix, or vase, by the Greek potter Euphronius, which reached the Getty in pieces from 1983 to 1990 from a variety of private collections. Italian experts alleged that the piece was illegally excavated from the Etruscan site of Cerveteri, north of Rome. Marion True, the Getty's curator of antiquities, said she had been unconvinced by evidence from Italian government investigators, but came to the conclusion after her own investigation.

The 2nd-century marble torso of Mithras has been traced to the Italian Giustiniani family. The Roman head, bought in New York, appears to have come from an excavation at Venosa.