Euphronios kylix update
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Fragments of an Attic Greek red-figured terracotta drinking cup, or kylix, produced by the fifth-century bc potter Euphronios, were returned in January 1999 by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles to the government of Italy. This followed revelations in Rome that three other fragments from the same kylix had been discovered by the carabinieris art squad in the possession of Giacomo Medici.
Mr Medici is currently awaiting trial in Italy on charges of smuggling antiquities out of the country. He was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary in 1997, which showed that many of the unprovenanced antiquities which passed through his hands were subsequently sold at Sothebys auction house in London.
The Euphronios kylix, which dates from c. 490 bc, was painted by Onesimos and shows scenes of the Trojan war, featuring Helen and Menelaus, figures of duellers, and Apollo and Ajax.
In exchange for the carabinieri agreeing to drop charges (in this one case) against Mr Medici, he has agreed to cooperate fully in their inquiries.
These have shown that the first fragment of this vase came to light in the 1960s, in the possession of Dietrich von Bothmer of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He passed it to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Other fragments were acquired by the Getty beginning in 1982, after which the kylix was published in an article by Geoffrey Williams.
The carabinieri believe that the bulk of the vase was illegally excavated about twenty years ago from Cerveteri, an Etruscan site near Rome. Apart from the fragments housed in the Getty Museum, other fragments were illegally exported to Switzerland in May 1991 and photographs of these fragments were offered on the Paris market.
The value of the three fragments returned by the Getty has been put at $500,000 by the carabinieri, with the value of the complete kylix set at 10 billion lire, or close to $5 million. Marion True, curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, would not divulge the name of the European dealer from whom the museum acquired the fragments, or the price paid. The kylix was returned voluntarily, following the museums new (1995) acquisitions policy for collecting antiquities, which calls for prompt return of objects to their country of origin should information come to light that convinces us that this is the appropriate action to take.
The carabinieris aim in publicizing this case is two-fold. First, they wish to burn the name of Giacomo Medici in the antiquities trade, to publicize as widely as possible his involvement in illicit antiquities so that no one can be in any doubt that objects once in his possession are suspect.
Second, the Italian police are sending out signals to other owners of fragments of the kylix. They have made it plain that, in return for not being prosecuted in this one case, Mr Medici has revealed to them who else owns the remaining missing fragments. We may take it therefore that the carabinieri are using official diplomatic and law enforcement channels to recover these other fragments. This story is not yet over.
First posted March 2000; Page design updated September 2006