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The Met might return another ancient vase to Italy

A fourth-century BC terracotta krater was turned over to the DA’s office last week based on evidence it was looted

by Helen Stoilas  |  1 August 2017
The Met might return another ancient vase to Italy
Terracotta bell-krater (mixing bowl), attributed to Python, around 360–350 BC (Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
An ancient vase at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been confiscated by the Manhattan district attorney’s office based on evidence that it was looted from Italy in the 1970s, the New York Times reports.

Authorities were tipped off about the work’s provenance by the archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, who identified it through his research into the files of the Italian art dealer Giacomo Medici. Medici, who was convicted in 2004 of conspiring to traffic antiquities, denies any connection to the vase.

The red-figure painted terracotta bell krater, attributed to the artist Python and dated to 360-350 BC, depicts the god of wine Dionysus riding in a cart with a maenad, drawn by the satyr Papposilenos. The museum bought the work in 1989 from Sotheby’s for $90,000. The auction house has declined to identify the previous owner, but said it had no knowledge of any problems with the object’s provenance at the time of the sale.

The vase was displayed in the Met’s Greco-Roman galleries until last week, when prosecutors issued a warrant for it on 24 July. The museum turned the work over to authorities the next day and expects to return the vase to Italy. The Met owns another vase by Python, dated to 350-325 BC and from the same region of Paestum in southern Italy, which was founded by Greek colonists. It acquired that work in 1976.

“The Museum has worked diligently to ensure a just resolution of this matter,” a museum spokesman says in a statement. After Tsirogiannis published an image of the vase with his findings in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, the Met reached out to the Italian Ministry of Culture, but did not hear back. “The Museum is always committed to working with government partners to resolve an issue regarding an item in our collection,” the spokesman adds.

In 2008, the Met returned the Euphronios krater to Italy after a 30-year dispute over its provenance. It was bought in Switzerland in 1972 by the then-director of the Metropolitan, Thomas Hoving, who afterward repeatedly stated that the antiquity was looted from Italy.

UPDATE: The Met also turned over to prosecutors a sculpture of an ancient bull’s head that was on loan to the museum from a private collection, the New York Times reports. The museum alerted Lebanese authorities about the work in July after a curator's research raised concerns that the work was looted from a storeroom in the 1980s during the civil war. The owners of the artefact, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title and have sued for its return.

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