Francis X. Rocca shifts the debate over returning illicit antiquities a little in the Wall Street Journal by quoting Vernon Silver who wrote a book on the Euphronios Krater recently returned to Italy from New York’s Metropolitan Museum:
Mr. Silver, chronicler of the criminals, curators, detectives and politicians who have chased after the bowl in recent decades, insists that their story too is now an essential part of the krater’s significance, and thus an important element in the way the museum should present it. “Objects accrue meanings over time,” he says. “People may go to jail today because of this 2,500-year-old pot. Reputations have been won and lost because of it. To label it as just a work of art would be a mistake.”
That’s a good thing because the Krater is Greek but was stolen from an Etruscan site in Italy. Since its return, the Italian authorities have been at pains to put the Krater in some meaningful context that will attract visitors and allow the public to see this incomparable artifact:
Since then, the krater’s Italian custodians have highlighted its significance as a trophy in the struggle to restore antiquities to their rightful, if not original, locations. (The krater belonged to the ancient Etruscans, but they of course imported it from Greece.)
The Italian public’s first chance to see the krater was at a high-profile exhibition of ”recovered masterpieces” last year at the Quirinal Palace, the presidential residence in Rome. Next month, it will feature in a show at Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo celebrating the achievements of Italy’s art police.
Even in its present digs, in a museum dedicated to a pre-Roman civilization, the krater’s presentation emphasizes its latter-day odyssey. The curators have grouped it with an additional 16 artifacts illicitly acquired by foreign institutions and repatriated in the past few years. An explanatory panel features a map of the U.S., pinpointing the locations from which the objects were recovered. Los Angeles’s J. Paul Getty Museum alone gave back six.
Villa Giulia’s director, Francesca Boitani, insists that this commentary is not meant to send an accusatory message, but to showcase a “new attitude” in the curatorial establishment on both sides of the Atlantic—an attitude that combines respect for national heritage with a greater openness to sharing cultural treasures. She notes that Italy has lent the Getty several important works, including the 2,400-year-old bronze Chimaera of Arezzo (on view through Feb. 8, 2010), as part of a restitution agreement.
Ms. Boitani also notes that the current display is only temporary, and that later this year the museum will unveil a permanent exhibition dedicated to finds from Cerveteri, placing the krater squarely in its Etruscan context.
A Celebrity in Low-Key Digs (Wall Street Journal)