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The Met Relinquishes a Potentially Stolen Greek Vase

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 3 August 2017
A 2,300 year-old vase has been seized from the Met’s collection on suspicion that it’s actually stolen property.

Attributed to the ancient Greek artist Python, a terracotta bell-krater (a bell-shaped vessel used to dilute wine in ancient Greece) depicting the god of wine and fertility, Dionysus, has been removed from the Met’s Greek and Roman Art galleries where it was displayed for over 20 years.

Terracotta bell-krater (mixing bowl), attributed to Python, ca. 350–325 B.C.
Terracotta bell-krater (mixing bowl), attributed to Python, ca. 350–325 B.C. | Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The museum was under orders to surrender the artifact after the Manhattan district attorney issued a warrant on July 24. Forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis of the Association for Research Into Crimes Against Art tipped off the DA with evidence supporting his three-year-old claim that the vase had been stolen by grave robbers in the 1970s in Italy before winding up in the museum’s collection.

In 2014, Tsirogiannis published his claim that that the vase may have been looted in the Journal of Art Crime after combing through the records of Giacomo Medici, a convicted antiquities trafficker. He sent the evidence—Polaroid copies of the Python vase in Medici’s possession, a Sotheby’s catalogue from 1989 advertising an identical vessel, and an image posted by the Met of their acquisition that same year (via Sotheby’s for $90,000, according to The New York Times)—to the museum and, after the Met allegedly ignored his attempt to contact them, Manhattan prosecutor and art crime specialist, Matthew Bogdanos.

The New York Times reported that the Met “disputed the suggestion that it had ignored warnings about the vase,” claiming to have “informally” reached out to Italian authorities. “The museum said that in December 2016 it sent the Italian Culture Ministry a formal request to resolve the case. The Met said it was awaiting guidance from the Italians when Manhattan prosecutors alerted it in June to their own concerns,” the Times continued.

Medici was arrested for trafficking antiquities in 1997 and convicted in 2005. In 2003, investigators found 3,800 looted objects and their meticulous documentation, as well as nearly 4,000 photos of items he had trafficked in his Geneva storehouses, according to The New York Times. Tsirogiannis used Medici’s numerous photos to make connections regarding the Python vase.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Medici denies his connection to the case. The Met’s chief communications officer, Kenneth Weine, told Hyperallergic that “The Museum has worked diligently to ensure a just resolution of this matter,” and that the Met “is always committed to working with government partners to resolve an issue regarding an item in [their] collection.”