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Italian Silver Swap: The Met Didn’t Get What It Bargained For

An Italian court yesterday turned down an appeal by the Getty Museum of a lower court ruling that called for the so-called Getty Bronze be immediately relinquished to Italy. But a report [via] by ANSA, the Italian news agency, indicates that the Italians may be open to another of their object-swapping deals to help settle the matter.

That makes this a good time to take a look at the most recent instance of this—a recently excavated ancient Roman dining set consisting of 20 silver objects sent in January in exchange for the Metropolitan Museum’s return of 16 pieces of Hellenistic silver (pursuant to its agreement with Italy that allowed those pieces to linger for a time in New York at the Met’s reconfigured Greek and Roman galleries, which reopened in 2007).

Here’s what the Met formerly had:


The Hellenistic Silver Hoard, including 16 objects that were returned to Italy by the Met

…and here’s what it got:

The Moregine Silver Treasure, lent by the Republic of Italy

Let’s move in for a closer look at the star articles in the old and new silver assortments.

Here’s what the Met had:


Silver-gilt Medallion, Representing Scylla, Greek, South Italian
or Sicilian, 3rd century B.C.

…and here’s what it got:

Roman silver serving tray, second half of 1st century B.C.

In keeping with Italy’s emphasis on the importance of combatting looting, the recent arrivals are exhibited with a photo showing that they were professionally excavated. Here they are in their findspot, during conservation:


There was one additional object recently sent to the Met in exchange for the returned Hellenistic silver, which I haven’t yet seen—an important ancient Greek terracotta kylix.

The terms of the agreement were that the Met was to receive loans from Italy of “equivalent beauty and importance.” I don’t claim expertise in ancient silver, but it seems obvious to me that the silver we got was not comparable to the silver we relinquished.

I had felt the same way about the loans Italy sent to the Met in 2008, in exchange for the celebrated Euphronios krater. Unlike the Euphronios, the Hellenistic silver will be back at the Met less than four years from now, for a four-year stint (to be repeated every four years).

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