One of the most celebrated Grecian vases made and signed by the ancient artist Euphronios has returned to Rome with great fanfare.
The Met has had it since 1972. It was the flagship of their ancient collection. Only problem is, it turned up at the Met with zero provenance, ie, there was no record of previous ownership.
Italy had an idea of where it came from: Cervetri, the Etruscan town just outside of Rome packed with lootalicious unexcavated tombs and the source of most known Euphronios pieces. Since there are laws against digging stuff up under cover and night and selling it to the highest bigger — laws with which the Met was familiar, hence its 3 decades of stonewalling about where the hell they got the Euphronios krater — Italy went to the mattresses to get the vase back.
Finally, they succeeded. They had to make a deal with the Met, loaning them pieces of equivalent value for a few years, but still, the krater and 60+ of his little looted friends are back in Rome now and on glorious exhibit: Nostoi: Recovered Masterpieces.
The antiquities trade is a dirty, dirty business, y’all. Everyone from the major auction houses to the snootiest super rich private collectors to the rarified curators of the greatest museums are elbow-deep in looted shit.
It’s not about colonialist Elgin-style theft from 200 years ago. We’re talking massive ongoing operations of stealing and fencing, and they’re all in on it, or at least craning their necks so far to look the other way that they might as well be in on it.
This is the first entry of a series on looting and antiquities. Watch this space for more riveting tales of filth and lucre.