Vernon Silver Takes on Giacomo Medici
I've just finished reading an early galley of Vernon Silver's new book weighing in on the story of stolen Euphronioses and the man most associated with their looting in recent decades, Giacomo Medici.
The book, "The Lost Chalice," comes out in June, and the title refers to a chalice by the famed Greek painter that emerged on the market at around the same time as the more famous, and more valuable, krater bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The book takes us through a now-familiar cast of characters in this drama - Medici himself, dealer Robert Hecht, Italian prosecutors, museum curators, tombaroli and that curiously, still-unmet Swiss restorer, Fritz Burki. (Why have none of us sought this guy out? He must know an awful lot).
Setting up his tale as a mystery to be solved Silver takes a micro approach to a great big problem, that of looted antiquities in modern times. We learn that there’s another rare Euphronios out there to be traced and tracked.
I learned a number of things about Medici that I didn’t know, particularly the story of his tragic maiming as a child by a wayward American bomb in World War Two. But I do wonder how much more readers will want to know about this man, who has already been the title subject of another book, Peter Watson’s, “The Medici Conspiracy,” as well as treated extensively in “Loot.”
Medici is not exactly a household name to average readers, and at the same time, the tale doesn’t really feel new. But Silver does a good job of weaving together police evidence, court testimony and interviews with Medici himself. For my money, the most interesting part of the book is not so much the mystery he builds around the elusive Euphronios – after all, it’s just a cup, and it wasn’t held by Jesus, blessed by Caesar or otherwise made a meaningful part of our cultural iconography.
Instead, it’s when Silver finds himself in the humble home of a tombaroli-farmer, invited for lunch at their table. There he hears a detailed account of how they found an ancient Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri, dug it up in an operation that took months and where they found the Euphronios krater and, it appears, the missing chalice. That kind of moment is worth the wait, and a welcome glimpse into the modern, secret journey of such ancient objects.