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May 10, 2007

LOS ANGELES—The J. Paul Getty Museum hosted a scientific workshop yesterday to add to the base of scholarly knowledge about an acrolithic Cult Statue of a Goddess, often referred to as Aphrodite.  This statue is arguably the most art historically important of the antiquities in the J. Paul Getty Museum collection on which claims have been made by the Italian Ministry of Culture. 

Workshop participants included an international group of experts in the fields of archaeology, art history, geology, and soil and pollen analysis.  Other participants included representatives of the Sicilian Regional Ministry of Culture and Environmental Heritage as well as the Archeological Institute of America. 

“Last November I offered to transfer full title of the Cult Statue to the Italian state and suggested we spend the next year undertaking joint research on the object.  That offer was rejected,” said Dr. Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “In the wake of this, the Getty Museum decided to go forward nonetheless to complete this research, which we believe is an essential part of our due diligence in response to the claim by the Italian Ministry of Culture.”

Dr. Brand began the workshop with a review of what is known so far about the Cult Statue, as well as the claims presented by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Workshop participants, including art historian Professor Clemente Marconi from New York University, archeologist Professor Malcolm Bell, III, from the University of Virginia, palynologist Dr. Pam Chester from New Zealand, conservation scientist John Twilley from New York, and geologist Professor Rosario Alaimo from the University of Palermo in Sicily, then explored the key issues and evidence from the perspectives of their own disciplines. 

Professor Marconi discussed the relationship of this sculpture to other acrolithic works from the Mediterranean basin, surveying the tradition of acrolithic sculpture in the region, in which marble heads and limbs were combined with wooden or limestone bodies, such as in the case of the Cult Statue.

As co-director of the U.S. archeological excavations at Morgantina in Sicily, Professor Bell spoke about the site in the context of other archeological sites in Sicily, where temples were constructed in the 5th century B.C.   All were sacked by the Carthaginians at the end of the 5th century and many statues were vandalized or removed.    

Professor Alaimo presented an analysis of the statue’s limestone, a project undertaken in 1997 at the request of the Italian government using stone samples provided by the Getty.  His research found the limestone in the statue to be 23-24 million years old and most likely quarried in eastern Sicily.

Dr. Twilley presented the chemical content of soil removed from holes in the statue when acquired by the Getty. 

Dr. Chester spoke about her preliminary analysis of pollen remains contained in the soil residue removed from the statue after it arrived at the Getty in 1988.  Her analysis suggested that the pollen was representative of an open landscape that had been extensively cultivated.

Following the morning presentations, participants gathered for a wide-ranging discussion of the material presented, and an identification of issues that required further exploration.  Among them were the identity of the goddess herself – opinions varied as to whether the statue represented Aphrodite, Hera, or Persephone, and what she might have been holding in her hands.  In addition, the precise location of the temple where she may have stood, and the spot where she was found, remain unknown. 

Participants identified additional soil analysis they hoped could be conducted, comparing soil samples from the statue to soil from Morgantina and other archaeological sites in Sicily, and some soil still attached to similar acrolithic objects.  It was also concluded that  a larger pollen sample could possibly yield additional information.

The results of this workshop and any additional analysis will be independently reviewed by outside sources, and published initially on the Getty website.  Other publications may follow as well.  Dr. Brand estimated that the research and review process would be complete by the end of the year, consistent with the timetable he originally proposed to the Italian Ministry of Culture.
At the close of the daylong workshop, Dr. Brand noted the extraordinary and unprecedented mix of expertise brought to bear on the Cult Statue.  “We have scientists, art historians, archeologists, curators – experts from Italy, the United States and New Zealand, as well as an official delegation from Sicily – coming together in a collegial spirit of genuine, open-minded, scholarship,” says Brand.  “At the end of the workshop, it was clear none of us individually have all the answers to the many questions surrounding this statue, but together we have deepened our understanding of this remarkable object.”

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Workshop Presenters

Professor Clemente Marconi
James R. McCredie Professor of Greek Art and Archaeology
Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
Expertise: Archaic and Classical Greek Sculpture and the Archaeology of Ancient Sicily

Professor Malcolm Bell, III
Professor of Art History
University of Virginia
Co-director, U.S. excavations at Morgantina
Expertise: Greek art and archaeology, with a particular interest in Greek Sicily

Dr. Pamela I. Chester
Archaeological Palynologist
New Zealand
Expertise: pollen

John Twilley
Art Conservation Scientist
New York
Expertise: analysis of ancient materials

Professor Rosario Alaimo
Professor of Geochemistry
University of Palermo
Expertise: geochemistry and limestone characteristics

Observers included

Representing the Sicilian Regional Ministry of Culture and Environmental Heritage:

Dr. Flavia Zisa
Professor of Museum Studies and Archeology
Universita di Catania and Universita “Kore” di Enna
Expertise: Greco-Roman Classical Archaeology and a consultant to the office of the Assessore of the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Environmental Heritage
Professor Antonio Francesco Vitale
Professor of Legislation at the Universita di Catania
Expertise: international legislation and a consultant to the office of the Assessore of the Sicilian Ministry of Culture and Environmental Heritage

Gaetano Gullo
Central Library of Sicily

Representing the Archeological Institute of America:

Professor Jennifer Neils
Vice President of the Archeological Institute of America
Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History and Classics, Case Western Reserve University
Expertise: Field archeologist, curator, educator, and researcher on classical Greece and Italy

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Julie Jaskol
Getty Communications

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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