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Tina Brown:

“Sharon Waxman has written a compelling page turner about the world of antiquities and art-world skulduggery. She manages to combine rigorous, scholarly reporting with a flair for intrigue and personality that gives Loot the fast pace of a novel. I enjoyed it immensely."

Christopher Hitchens:

“Sharon Waxman’s Loot is the most instructive as well as the most intelligent (and the most entertaining) guide through the labyrinth of antiquity and the ways in which the claims of the departed intersect with the rights of the living.”

Douglas Preston, author of The Monster of Florence:

"Loot is a riveting foray into the biggest question facing museums today: who should own the great works of ancient art? Sharon Waxman is a first-rate reporter, a veritable Euphronios of words, who not only explores the legal and moral ambiguities of the conflict but brings to life the colorful -- even outrageous -- personalities facing off for a high noon showdown over some of the world’s iconic works of art. Vivid, witty, and delightful, this book will beguile any reader with an interest in art and museums."

Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit:

“Sharon Waxman approaches her subject with the passion of a great journalist and the rigor of a scholar. It may never again be possible for some of us to walk down the halls of the Louvre or the British Museum or the Metropolitan without a vague sense of disquietude, a frisson of wonder about the provenance of some of their showcase works of ancient art.”

Karl E. Meyer, author of The Plundered Past and co-author of Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East:

"Sharon Waxman’s Loot is indispensable for everyone concerned with the illicit trade in smuggled antiquities. She exposes the self-serving humbug that too often afflicts both affluent possessors and righteous nationalists and shows that we all have a stake in getting an honest account of how great objects came to rest in our grandest museums."

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April 11, 2009

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.

Lost chalice 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.


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