Italian court sides with Getty Museum in export dispute over Bassano painting

After a 2018 ruling by Italy's highest administrative court ended a complex legal dispute over its export from the country, Jacopo Bassano's painting was returned to Los Angeles' J. Paul would be right at the Getty Museum.

On November 21, the Council of State ruled in favor of the J. Paul Getty Trust and Alex Postiglione, the former owner of the painting who originally applied for an export license. They contested the Italian Ministry of Culture's decision in January 2022 to revoke the license and order the return of the painting due to its „exceptional” importance to Italian cultural heritage.

The ministry said the Getty Trust's purchase of the Bassano work in New York in 2021 relied on false information provided in the export license – issued by the Paisa Export Office nearly four years ago. Getty was given 60 days to return the work to Italy.

The Council of State has now rejected the ministry's request and declared the cancellation illegal, overturning a lower court that had earlier sided with the ministry. „This is an important decision and will have an important impact on the international circulation of artworks with Italian provenance,” says Italian art lawyer Giuseppe Calabi, who represented the Getty Foundation in its appeal.

Postiglione, a designer and art historian descended from the last king of Burma, first submitted a request for an export license for the Bassano painting in December 2017. The 16th-century work depicts a biblical episode described in the Old Testament. Known for centuries under various titles: The miracle of the loaves and fishes, The miracle of partridges and manna, The wonder of partridges, The miracle of the quails and the manna And The miracle of quails and the harvest of partridges.

After experts from the Ministry of Culture examined the painting three times, the Paisa Export Office issued the license. It was later sold and transferred to an unknown person in the United States. In 2021 the owner sold the painting privately to the Getty Foundation.

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Alerted to the sale by media reports in October 2021, the Italian Ministry of Culture revoked the export license, saying it contained „insufficient and misleading” information about the painting and omitted its „true” title as indicated in the complaint. Bible meaning.

The ministry also said the painting was exhibited in poor condition – „dirty and with a patina […] According to the state ruling, its status and image quality would have been significantly obscured. In fact, the situation was considered so dire that the Export Office reduced the estimate of the job from €120,000 to €70,000.

The ministry backtracked on the rescinded decree, declaring that „the painting by Bassano's master is an absolute masterpiece, of exceptional artistic and historical importance to Veneto Renaissance art and the national cultural heritage.” The ministry said the „quality and exceptional historical and artistic value of the work and its important cultural interest” came to light „only on a later day”.

However, the Council of State found that Postiglione's application for an export license did not contain „false declarations”, noting that experts on the licensing board erred in underestimating the painting. The committee had the „fundamental and delicate task of examining objects of cultural significance”, the verdict said. „It's well known that those objects, especially if they date back several years or even centuries, can and should be given more attention.”

The ministry's cancellation was outside the statutory 12-month time limit for reviewing administrative decisions. “The power of internal review must be exercised within a reasonable period by the public administration, above all by the private party […] placed legitimate reliance on the regularity of recognition,” the judgment said.

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Kalabi welcomes the decision, which cannot be appealed, although he notes that every year there are some decisions to revoke export licenses. „Any company or collector outside of Italy may be reluctant to buy works with Italian provenance because even if they have an export license, the government can theoretically ignore it,” he says. „But thanks to this case, the government needs to be more careful when revoking export licenses.”

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