The Nostoi (“Returns”) epic is mostly lost, but the bits and pieces which have survived indicate it tells the story of the return home of the Greek heroes after the Trojan War.
It is perhaps apt then that Italian authorities on Monday called the display “Nostoi: Returned Masterpieces” when they unveiled 68 antiquities which have recently been returned to Italy. Soon to join the list is the Euphronios Krater, which is slated for return from the Met in January.
Livia Borghese and Jason Felch have the story in the LA Times. Elisabetta Povoledo has a similar story in the NY Times, including a slide show by the AP and Italian Culture ministry. This image may be my favorite of the bunch, the Griffins attacking the doe. Objects were returned from the Getty, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Princeton, and the Met. Also, some objects from the Royal Athena Galleries in New York were returned as well.
As might be expected, Francesco Rutelli the Italian culture minister and vice prime minister was quick to point out the significance of these returns saying, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum… With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.”
Ultimately, the display shows the results of the Italian campaign which by necessity eschewed international law, and American law and instead went right to the heart of the matter using public pressure and the media along with the high-profile and ongoing trials of Marion True and Robert Hecht. At the press conference, Rutelli claimed that this strategy has “[brought] about radical changes in the trade of looted antiquities”. That may be true in a limited sense I suppose, but only I think when the antiquities are backed by strong political will in source nations. What about the trade in antiquities from South America or Iran and elsewhere? I’m not sure this strategy will impact those objects. I’m not sure either that this new strategy will alter the idea of the Universal Museum, which seems largely at odds with the policy of many source nations. Ideally the Italian accords will continue to allow the US and Italy to work together to continue to share objects but also to prevent the acquisition of illicit antiquities in the future.
Sarah Delaney has more in yesterday’s Washington Post, with more pontificating by Rutelli including this: “if we dry up the waters of illegal art trafficking it will be much more difficult for tombaroli and others to operate.” He praised as well the “new standards of ethics that American museums have adopted”. First among these is the Getty’s stringent new acquisition policy. Also, museums who cooperate will earn continued loans.
David Gill has more on the official handlist of objects in the display, including where objects came from, and a breakdown of the type and composition of objects. As he points out, “15 pieces were represented by South Italian pottery.”