LEFT: A Polaroid from the files of convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici of a dirt-encrusted Athenian red-figure volute krater, attributed to the Methyse Painter, 460-450 B.C.
RIGHT: Photo of the same krater, restored, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
What took Minneapolis so long?
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which since 2005 has known and publicly acknowledged that the past history of its Athenian red-figure volute krater seemed dicey, has finally gotten around to concluding that it should be relinquished to Italy.
In a press release, issued late yesterday, the museum stated:
It was determined that the krater in possession of the MIA is, in fact, the same krater depicted in photographs seized [in 1995] in the course of an investigation conducted by the [Italian] Carabinieri….
“The decision to transfer the Volute Krater demonstrates the MIA’s commitment to the highest ethical standards in developing and maintaining our collection,” said Kaywin Feldman, director and president of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. “Like so many mysteries, this one began with a fragmentary series of clues [emphasis added], calling into question the provenance of work.”
How many “clues” that the krater had been looted did Minneapolis really need? The evidence of the Medici photos is not exactly “fragmentary.” That cache of pictorial evidence had been convincing enough to impel both the Getty and Metropolitan museums to return important pieces to Italy.
In the above photos, it’s undeniable that the figure on the unrestored vessel’s right side is the same as the one on the center of vessel seen in Minneapolis’ photo of its krater. Similarly, the figure in the center of the unrestored piece can be seen on the left in Minneapolis’ photo.
The Minneapolis Institute has not been a model of transparency in responding to press queries about the krater (as you can see in my report of last December, linked at the top of this post). Nor has the museum’s press release come clean on the piece’s dirty provenance. Yesterday’s statement omits the key details about the krater’s past history that the museum must have known about (but didn’t act upon) for a long time—its connection, through the Polaroids, to convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici and the name of the person from whom the museum purchased the vessel in 1983—British dealer Robin Symes, a known conduit for looted antiquities.
My prior requests for information about the piece’s provenance (also described in the top-linked post) were stonewalled by the museum, leading me to observe that Kaywin Feldman, its director, was not living up to the transparency espoused by the Association of Art Museum Directors, of which she was then president. (Feldman, who became director in 2007, was not responsible for acquiring the piece and was not yet its
director when the museum first acknowledged that the provenance of the krater was suspicious.)
Mary Abbe of the Minneapolis Star Tribune mentioned the Symes connection in her report yesterday on the museum’s give-back plan. Back in 2007, David Gill of the Looting Matters blog named Symes as the seller of Minneapolis’ krater in this post (which, in turn, alluded to a mention of Symes as the seller in a 2005 Star Tribune article).
Abbe wrote this yesterday about the importance of the krater:
The vase was a Minneapolis star because the museum’s collection of antiquities is comparatively small, and museum scholars had identified its artist, now known as the Methyse Painter. Only 19 other surviving items have been attributed to Methyse from an era when art was generally produced by anonymous craftsmen.
And in other Greek vase news, the Getty Museum recently managed to add this one to its collection:
As for its provenance, the museum’s written description states:
The lekythos was first published by [Sir John] Beazley in the second edition of “Paralipomena” (1971). It was acquired by the previous owner in the 1960s and was examined in New York by Dietrich von Bothmer; notes in the von Bothmer archive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art document its presence in the United States in the mid-1960’s.
In other words, it was thought to have been safely out of its source country long before the 1970 cut-off point of the UNESCO Convention on cultural property. But who was that “previous owner? Julie Jaskol, the Getty’s assistant director for media relations, told me it was Iris Love, the American archaeologist and antiquities collector, “who purchased it in Athens in the 1960s.”