USA / ITALY: Speed Art Museum and Italian Ministry reach loan agreement on ancient calyx-krater

Greek, Paestum in southern Italy. Attributed to Python, as painter. Mixing vessel (calyx-krater). About 350-340 BCE.From Artdaily, February 1, 2018. The Speed Art Museum is returning to the Italian government a 2,400-year-old ceramic vessel that was apparently looted from Italian soil. The return of this red-figure calyx-krater is part of a multi-year agreement between the Museum and the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage under which the calyx-krater will remain at the Speed for four years to be followed by future loans from the Italian state.

The Speed voluntarily proposed the return of the calyx-krater after receiving evidence suggesting that the vessel had been illegally excavated and exported from Italy.

“At a time when the public knows about the international law on looting mostly from disputes and litigation, I am proud that the Speed proposed and reached this positive solution with the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, which supports our shared interest in the responsible celebration of Italian cultural heritage,” said Speed Art Museum Director Stephen Reily.

“The restitution by the Speed Art Museum of the red-figure calyx-krater from Paestum allows the return of an object that is part of our national heritage,” added Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Dario Franceschini.

The calyx-krater was made around 350-340 BCE in Paestum, an ancient Greek colony located in southern Italy. Ancient Greeks used kraters such as this to mix wine with water. The term calyx-krater refers to shape of the vessel, which resembles the open calyx of a flower. This calyx-krater depicts Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and the theatre, reclining on a banqueting couch and playing a game of kottabos.

The Speed Art Museum purchased the calyx-krater in 1990 from Robin Symes Limited, a fine arts dealer based in London and a specialist in ancient art. At the time Symes indicated he had acquired the krater from a private collector in Paris.

In 2015, the Speed was contacted by Christos Tsirogiannis, a research assistant working for the Trafficking Culture project at the University of Glasgow. He provided the Museum with digital copies of two color photographs of the calyx-krater, including a Polaroid seized during a 1995 raid by the Italian Carabinieri on the Geneva Freeport warehouse belonging to antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici. Medici was convicted in 2005 on an unrelated charge of receiving stolen goods, the illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic.

The source of the photographs, their format, and the dirt-encrusted appearance of the krater in the photographs confirmed for Speed staff the likelihood that the krater had been excavated in violation of international and Italian laws governing the ownership and excavation of archaeological material.

Immediately after seeing the photographs, the Speed contacted the director general of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism in Rome.

“The Speed followed responsible museum practices when it acquired this work in 1990, and we are proud to lead the way in responsible museum practices today by initiating contact with the Italian government on this issue and then negotiating a positive resolution,” said Reily. “We are grateful to Italy for partnering in this agreement and for letting us continue to share this beautiful object with the public, while also sharing important information related to looting, cultural heritage, and repatriation.”

“When archaeological sites are plundered, the perpetrators also rob us of invaluable and often irreplaceable information about the objects they uncover,” said Kim Spence, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, who also oversees the Speed Art Museum’s ancient art collection. “The Speed fully supports the work of professional archaeologists who follow the law and contribute to the better understanding of art objects and the significance those objects played in the lives of their owners,” added Spence.

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