August 2007

August 11, 2007

A Message of Tolerance

Jonas This picture ran in today's International Herald Tribune and many other newspapers, and it moved me deeply. It shows the great-nephew of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the esteemed Archbishop of Paris, placing dirt from Israel on the coffin of the archbishop, in front of Notre Dame de Paris, the cathedral where he was later laid to rest. The archbishop was born a Jew, and insisted on maintaining his Jewish identity throughout his life, despite his deep Catholic faith. Cardinal Lustiger, who wanted the Jewish prayer of mourning, the kadish, to be read at his funeral, sent a great, resounding message with his death, as he did with his life: tolerance is possible. Cultures, and faiths, can coexist. But there is something more personal here for me; Lustiger's great-nephew is Jonas Moses Lustiger, a young man I have known practically since he was born; in the background you see his sister, Laura, at one end, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the other. Jonas, 16, was selected to represent the Jewish side of the family at this funeral, which hosted not just the French president, but every imaginable Catholic dignitary short of the pope, ambassadors from around the world, and high officials from other faiths. This young man spoke eloquently, from his heart, about what Lustiger meant to him, as a Jew, as a Frenchman and as a human being. Jonas's mother, Gila, is a writer, as is his father, but they left the writing to Jonas himself. In this world where civilizations clash, cultures collide, religions aim their ideas, and then their weapons, this event sent out an enduring ripple of peace. I later spoke to Gila Lustiger, who read me the plaque that will be placed in the church, at the burial spot of Jean-Marie Lustiger. She said it reads, "I was born a Jew, and remained a Jew. I became Catholic through an act of faith, and was named Archbishop of Paris by Pope John Paul II." His name inscribed in the church includes his Jewish and Catholic names:  Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger.

Here's a bit more on Lustiger, from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: "Born Aaron Lustiger in Paris in 1926, he was the first child of secular Polish-Jewish émigrés. In 1940, he was sent with his sister to live with a Catholic woman following the German occupation of France. In August of that year, at age 13, he was baptized, adding Jean-Marie to his name. Lustiger was a central figure in Catholic-Jewish reconciliation efforts that characterized the tenure of Pope John Paul II, with whom he was close. He served as John Paul's representative at the commemoration ceremonies that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 2005. As archbishop of Paris, Lustiger served as a diplomatic back-channel, relaying to the Vatican Jewish concerns regarding Catholic anti-Semitism and the building of a convent at the Auschwitz death camp."

August 09, 2007

The True Shoe Dropping

As I reported here over a week ago, Marion True's woes are about to subside, because of the agreement between Italy and the Getty for the museum to return 40 objects that Italy says were looted. Bloomberg News reports today that both Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli and state prosecutor Maurizio Fiorilli say that the civil charges against True will be dropped. Fiorilli told me this would happen, in an interview before the agreement was announced (see "The End of True's Trials?") . The article says that True still faces criminal charges, but Fiorilli told me at the time that those will likely be negotiated in a plea bargain to a jail sentence of two to three years. So will end the True saga, unless Greece moves forward with its own criminal proceedings, which remains unclear. Overall, I can only imagine that this will serve as a painful deterrent to any other museum considering dragging its heels on an agreement with Italy over allegedly looted objects.

August 05, 2007

Writer's Read

This is kind of cool. Someone called Marshal Zeringue is hosting a blog that encourages reading, in part by asking writers what they are looking at these days. So, he asked me, and I answered. It's here: http://whatarewritersreading.blogspot.com/2007/08/sharon-waxman.html, and the rest of blog is pretty interesting too.

Marshal writes, as I guess he does regularly of lots of writers: "I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:

I've been on a month-long research trip for a new book I'm writing about looted antiquities, and have been reading largely on that topic.

I've been vastly enjoying Traveling Through Egypt, a compendium of writings from travelers to ancient Egypt starting from the Greeks (Pliny the Elder) but with lots of entertaining material from Victorian travellers (ie advice for the ladies: leave the maid at home). It's edited by Deborah Manley and Sahar Abdel-Hakim.

And since I've been making my way through Greece, I've been reading Lawrence Durrell's travelogue of the islands, The Greek Islands. I have been advised to get ahold of Homer and reread the Iliad and Odyssey, which I intend to do next."

August 04, 2007

Signing Off, For Now

And so this little experiment draws to a close. I am heading to a quiet place to begin writing in earnest, and will not be posting regularly in this space. I have much enjoyed sharing my discoveries and adventures with you across the ancient world, and have been very gratified by your supportive responses. I will still be checking email for anyone who needs to find me. Thanks for reading, and -- until we meet again. S.

August 03, 2007

Keeping Things Clear

I’m a little slow on the uptake on this blogospherical world. Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes took issue earlier this week with my post on Marion True, and called my analysis of her public humiliation inaccurate. But it is Green, in fact, who is factually inaccurate, as he cites the loan for her house on Paros as proof that she broke the rules. Her public ordeal – her criminal trial in Italy and the pending charges against her in Greece --  do not involve the loan for her house in Paros. They involve, in the main, her purchases of allegedly looted antiquities for the Getty. And it is this issue which warrants consideration of the larger forces at work in the art world, and the highly unusual situation of a once-respected curator facing jail time. Perhaps to Green it is heresy to consider the notion that True is not one bad apple in an otherwise transparent world of antiquities buyers and sellers. But my reporting throughout the world of antiquities strongly suggests otherwise. And as the state prosecutor in Rome made clear in his interview with me, Marion True is being tried to bring the Getty to heel. As of this week, the Getty has been brought to heel; True’s public agonies, as I mentioned earlier based on that interview, can be expected to draw to a close.

Medici, the Devil


ROME -- You might think that it is difficult to meet a bona fide antiquities smuggler. It is not. Giacomo Medici, convicted here of smuggling and sentenced to 10 years in prison and a 10 million Euro fine, was perfectly happy to meet me and explain his view of the world. Medici, for those who do not know, is notorious. He is, of course, the title character in the book by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, “The Medici Conspiracy.” The photos seized in 1995 from his Geneva gallery have been the basis not just for his conviction, but for restitution claims against the Getty and the Met, and the criminal trial against Marion True. According to prosecutors, he was a key link in a chain of tombaroli (tomb robbers) and once-respectable dealers who laundered illegal pieces then sold to private collectors and museums. So here is the very man. A handsome, trim 69-year-old, Medici claims innocence of a particular kind: the charges against him were false, he said, and not supported by hard evidence apart from the photos, which he said were misused by prosecutors. His sense of outrage is like a physical presence. At his daughter’s apartment, where we met, he said: “Did I do wrong things? Maybe. Not maybe, yes. But not what they accused me of. And that’s hypocrisy.” Slowly he worked himself up into a fury, until finally he stood in the middle of room, his legs planted, his arms spread wide, shouting: “Medici, diavolo! Medici, diavolo! Medici, diavolo!”  Twelve years after the raid on his gallery, Medici’s case is still pending, on appeal. Many believe he will win on the basis of a recent change in the statute of limitations. “The past is past,” said Medici. “They were sleeping, all these governments. Now, justice must be done in source countries. They must defend their artifacts. But for 35 years, Giacomo Medici was perfect, and now all of a sudden he is the devil. How is it possible?” (Photo is of Medici in front of the Euphronius krater, returned to Italy by the Met; he denies having been involved in its sale, which was part of his conviction.)

August 02, 2007

Getty Folds Its Cards

When Maurizio Fiorilli told me Monday that he was close to an agreement with the Getty on the 52 disputed items in their collection, I didn't imagine that they were this close, though he did have a fax from Getty director Michael Brand on his desk with a review of the draft agreement. Today, Elisabetta Povoledo reports in the Times on the Getty's agreement to hand back 40 pieces of its antiquities collection to Italy. She writes: "Full details of the accord were not made public, but the 40 pieces include 26 works that the Getty had unilaterally agreed to return to Italy last November.... A fifth-century B.C. statue of a cult deity usually identified as Aphrodite, one of the Getty’s prized pieces, is among the works to be returned to Italy, the Italian Culture Ministry and the museum’s governing trust said in a joint statement. But discussions on the fate of another statue, a fourth-century-B.C. bronze of a young athlete that was pivotal to the breakdown of earlier negotiations, have been temporarily put aside so that an Italian court can conduct an inquiry on how the artifact was found and how it left Italy in the 1960s." This is a major blow to the Getty, and has to be seen as a significant landmark in the overall tug-of-war between American museums with antiquities collections and source countries such as Italy. Fiorilli made clear to me that this is not the end of the road for Italy's pursuit of items it believes have been looted, though he wouldn't say which museums (or curators) are next on his list. It also raises global questions about the Getty collection, and its ability to feel secure about challenges to provenance. Fiorilli told me that Italy had the evidence to demand the return of 300 pieces, but was contenting itself with this.