In November of 1972, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City announced the purchase of the Euphronios krater (515 BCE) for one million dollars, an acquisition that was soon dubbed the “Hot Pot” because of the intense public scrutiny that surrounded it. Evidence quickly emerged that suggested the krater had been looted from a site north of Rome in 1971, illegally smuggled out of Italy, and sold to the Met by Robert E. Hecht, an American art dealer notorious for his involvement in antiquity smuggling scandals. Still, the krater remained in the museum’s collection for over thirty years until an Italian Carbinieri “Art Squad” investigation led to a warehouse in Geneva belonging to antiquities trader Giacomo Medici. Medici’s massive collection of looted objects and telling documents and photos linked him to the sale of the krater to Hecht and gave insight into a highly organized international antiquities smuggling network.1
On February 21, 2006, the Metropolitan Museum of Art signed an accord with the Italian Ministry of Culture, agreeing to the return of the Euphronios krater, a sixteen piece set of silver, and four archeological objects that were used in the trial against Medici in exchange for long-term Italian loans of equivalent importance and beauty. The krater remained on exhibit at the Met until January of 2008.
It was the case of the Euphronios krater that first brought my attention to the illicit trade in cultural property. At Lehigh University, I completed my senior honors thesis on the international response to this issue. This issue is a historic problem and one that continues because of globalization and the burgeoning market for cultural property.
The goal of this blog is to highlight historic and contemporary cases of smuggling and looting and to examine the international community's response to this issue. I will post emerging news stories and track publications and resources that contribute to our understanding of the illicit trade in cultural property.
1. Watson, Peter and Todeschini, Cecilia. 2006. The Medici Conspiracy. New York: PublicAffairs.