In recent art world news, an ancient vase known as a krater, prominently displayed in the Greco-Roman galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for decades, was quietly seized by U.S. prosecutors from the district attorney’s office in Manhattan after the issuance of a warrant last week. The vibrantly painted krater dates back to 360 B.C. and depicts Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, sitting in a cart pulled by a satyr. The antiquity is attributed to the Greek artist Python, who is considered one of the two greatest painters of that time.
A warrant was issued to the Met after investigators reviewed photos and other evidence sent to them back in May by a forensic archaeologist based in Europe who has been tracing looted artifacts for over a decade. The museum had hand-delivered the vase to prosecutors the following day and expects that it will be eventually returned to Italy. The vase was seized based on evidence that it had been looted by tomb raiders in Italy in the 1970s.
The recent seizure of the krater is similar to the removal of another terracotta vase, known as the Euphronios Krater, from the Met back in 2008 after evidence revealed that the object had been illegally excavated from an ancient burial ground in Italy. Both law enforcement and museum authorities believe that the vases passed through Italian art dealer, Giacomo Medici, who was arrested in 1997 and convicted in a Rome court in 2004 for conspiracy to traffic in antiquities.
Medici, who has since been released from prison, has denied any role in connection with the recently seized vase. The Met purchased the vase at a Sotheby’s auction in 1989 for $90,000. Sotheby’s has said it did not have any knowledge of provenance issues with the object at the time it handled the sale.
While its significance does not rise to the level of the far larger Euphronios Krater, which the Met sent back to Italy after a 30-year dispute, the newly confiscated vessel is a remarkably intact survivor of an age when the Greeks colonized Paestum, a Mediterranean city in the Campania region south of Rome, and created temples and artworks of legendary beauty.”
The forensic archaeologist in Europe who traced the krater said that his evidence suggested that the object was disinterred by looters from a grave site in southern Italy and eventually ended up in Medici’s possession. Many of the antiquities that went through Medici ultimately ended up in museums throughout the world.
This latest case appears as “more and more museums are being pressed to scour their collections for items trafficked by known antiquities smugglers whose goods originated in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Cambodia, India, and Egypt” and other countries long affected by looting.
For more information on this story and the forensic archaeologist’s evidence resulting in the seizure of the krater, see “Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum On Suspicion It Was Looted,” published online by the New York Times on July 31, 2017.