Why Met Museum's Vase Is Sitting in an Evidence Room

The Met bought it at Sotheby's, but it may have been looted from a grave
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2017 10:00 AM CDT
Why Met Museum's Vase Is Sitting in an Evidence Room
The terra-cotta bell krater attributed to Python.   (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

For 2,300 years, the painted vase has shown a scene involving the god Dionysus. For just under 30 of those years, it's been in the possession of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and for the last week or so, it's been stored in the evidence room of the Manhattan DA's office. At issue is the provenance of the item, known as a bell krater and attributed to the Greek artist Python: The museum acquired it in a Sotheby's auction for $90,000 in 1989, but investigators believe it was looted from an Italian grave in the 1970s, reports the New York Times. The suspicions most loudly surfaced in 2014, when forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis made a case in the Journal of Art Crime based on evidence that involves a man who's a known headache to the Met: Giacomo Medici.

The 79-year-old Italian art dealer served four years after being convicted of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities and was tied to the Euphronios Krater, a stunning piece of pottery signed by Euphronios himself that the museum paid a record-breaking $1 million for in 1972. The museum was ultimately forced to send it back to Italy after it was confirmed to have been raided from a tomb. In this case, Tsirogiannis alleges photos found in Medici's warehouses show the Python vase with "soil/salt encrustations," per the Association for Research Into Crimes Against Art, making it "abundantly clear" to him "that this rare object had been stolen," per the Times. In his own comments to the Times, Medici denies that the vase ever crossed his hands. The Met says it did try to follow up on Tsirogiannis' claims with Italy and was awaiting a reply when it was served a search warrant from the Manhattan DA last week. (Read more Metropolitan Museum of Art stories.)

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