All things considered today has a terrific interview with Joseph Sisto, the son of John Sisto—the man whose private collection of antiquities, books and documents was subject to an FBI investigation resulting in 1,600 objects being returned to Italy. As I wrote earlier this week, this was a staggering number of objects in the hands of one private collection. And clearly the decision by the son to bring in the authorities after his father’s death has created some tension in the family.
As the younger Sisto says in the piece “Throughout the late 1960s and early ’70s, he went back and forth buying estates and castles — the contents of those estates — in Italy, and then shipping them back here to the United States,” he remembers that “[a]t some point, you could barely move in the house.” It seems the elder Sisto was self-taught, teaching himself ancient Latin and script Latin.
The younger Sisto soon realized that many of these objects had been illegally removed from Italy when he learned about the UNESCO Convention, and cultural property law while earning a degree in cultural anthropology.
The story presents a sharp contrast I think, in the attitudes of th elder Sisto who clearly thought he was conducting good research, translating thousands of these ancient documents. However his work, and his collection of objects must surely have violated Italian law. But why was nobody missing all of these documents? Were they really stolen, or instead purchased and illegally exported? What will happen to these ancient documents. I expect historians an dothers will be able to make great use of these documents, something that I don’t think they could have done had the documents remained in private hands.