Our Collective Cultural Heritage
No...wait...reading the article in the Times more carefully, I see that it's not being returned to Greece, but rather to Italy.
Hmmmm....now that's confusing. From the Times:
The massive krater, a vessel once used to mix wine and water, was painted by Euphronios, one of the most important Greek vase painters. The krater, painted in the red-figured style, depicts the Greek god Hermes directing Sleep and Death as they carry a son of Zeus for burial.So a vessel painted by one of the most important Greek vase painters is being claimed as belonging in Italy...er...uh...
OK, so I'm being silly, there's strong evidence that the vase was looted from a tomb near Rome, and it's fair to assume that the
My objection here is to this demarcation point, the place where it was found and assumed used (for all we know that vase was looted from somewhere else and hidden in this house). I mean, why stop where it was found? Why not return the vase to Greece? Euphronios lived and worked in Athens, not Rome. Athens has museums. The idea that the context of the collector's world is somehow more important than the context of the artist's world seems an odd one.
[Malcolm Bell, a University of Virginia archaeologist,] and other archaeologists have concluded that the [silver pieces the Met is also returning with the vase] form a single set looted from a third century B.C. house at the site. "I hope very much that when the silver set returns, it does so in its entirety," Mr. Bell said yesterday by telephone from Sicily, calling the Met's proposal a turning point.
He and others stressed the importance of reconnecting ancient objects to the settings in which they were used and found.
"The Euphronios krater was dug up from a tomb," said Giuseppe Proietti, a senior official in charge of cultural heritage for the Italian government. "Alone on exhibit it is aesthetically beautiful, but alongside other materials from a burial site it becomes something more. It's like reading just one page of a book. You will never experience the same pleasure derived from reading the entire novel." [emphasis mine]
At a certain point, you have to begin to bring into such decisions the fact that humans migrate and have for our entire existence on this planet. By moving around constantly we share a collective cultural heritage. I'm not aruging that the Met should get to keep the vase...if it came to them through what were clearly illegal means when they acquired it, they should have to give it up. But the idea that Italy has some moral high ground here to stand on seems a bit of a stretch to me.