In 1988, the J. Paul Getty Museum in California bought a 7-foot-tall, 1,300 pound limestone and marble statue of Aphrodite for $18 million.
The antiquities curator at the time wrote that it was "the greatest piece of Classical sculpture in this country and any country outside of Greece and Great Britain."
Except, almost immediately, the provenance of the sculpture came into question. Getty claimed the statue remained with a Swiss policeman's family for 50 years, but photos uncovered in 2006 made it plain that the statue had been illegally excavated.
The Los Angeles Times' Jason Felch, who has written a book about the dispute, reports today that, last week, Getty packed up the statue and flew it to Rome aboard an Alitalia airplane.
Felch reports that Getty settled the dispute with Italy in 2007. Other objects included in the agreement were returned in previous years, but both parties agreed that Aphrodite wouldn't go back to Italy until this year:
In part, the delay was intended to help the Getty as an institution prepare for the loss of an object that helped establish its reputation as a cultural force, recalled former Museum Director Michael Brand in a recent e-mail.
"What was previously regarded as unthinkable, almost the end of the world, became simply a necessarily sad moment," Brand wrote.