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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book about an important topic, 4 Mar. 2013
This review is from: The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (Paperback)
The title of this book refers to Giacomo Medici, an Italian art dealer, who was a key person in an international network, established to loot and smuggle ancient artifacts across the world.

The subtitle is more specific: "The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums."

It is written by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, who are investigative reporters with many years of experience.

The first version (hardcover) was published in 2006. The second version (paperback) appeared in 2007. The paperback includes an additional chapter about recent revelations in Greece: "Operation Eclipse" written by Nikolas Zirganos.

There is a picture section in the middle: 22 photos printed on 8 unnumbered pages between pp. 236 and 237. These photos are in black-and-white and rather small, but they are an important part of the evidence presented here.

There is one more illustration on page 362: a copy of a note written by one smuggler and discovered in the home of another smuggler. It is a chart which shows "how the international network was arranged throughout Italy, Switzerland and elsewhere" (pp. 16-17).

There are many details here, names of people and places as well as dates. But the book has a good structure. If you get lost among the many details, the index can help you get back on track.

Watson and Todeschini tell us when, where and how each piece of evidence was discovered. We should not complain about the high number of details. Instead we should be happy that the authors present the evidence on which their conclusions are based. There are many strong statements here, but as far as I can see, they are supported by solid evidence.

As explained in the first chapters, a major break-through in this case took place in September 1995 when a unit of the Italian police and a unit of the Swiss police raided Medici's office and storage room in Geneva. Inside they found a huge amount of evidence: more than 3,000 ancient objects, more than 4,000 photos of ancient objects, and hundreds of documents. Some of the ancient objects were looted, while others were stolen.

This evidence was (and is) highly damaging not only to Medici, but also to everyone who had worked with him (suppliers and buyers). The evidence pointed in many directions, for instance to:

* Art dealers such as Robert E. Hecht Jr. and Robin Symes

* Private collectors such as Barbara & Lawrence Fleischman (who donated money and objects to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles) as well as Leon Levy & Shelby White (who donated money and objects to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, colloquially known as the Met)

* Museum curators such as Dietrich von Boethmer from the Met as well as Jiri Frel and Marion True from the Getty Museum

The authors discuss these links (and many others) one by one: the Getty Museum in chapter 7, the Met in chapter 8, private collectors in chapter 9, Robert Hecht in chapter 12, and Robin Symes in chapter 17.

Medici was tried in an Italian court. In May 2005 he was found guilty. The sentence was ten years in prison plus a fine of 10 million Euros. His trial is covered in chapter 19. In 2009 a court of appeal reduced the prison time to eight years.

Hecht and True were also indicted by an Italian court. This trial, which began in November 2005, is covered in chapter 20. When the book went to press, the trial was still pending. It ended without a verdict, when an Italian court declared that the statute of limitations had expired (for True in 2010, for Hecht in 2012). In other words, they were never found guilty or innocent.

But whatever the verdict, the times were changing for the international market of antiquities: "Irrespective of the verdicts in the outstanding court cases, in November 2005, American museums started to return antiquities to Italy" (page 298): the Getty in Los Angeles, the Met in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The book opens and closes with a special case: the story about the Euphronios krater and the Met:

** THE PROLOGUE. In 1972, the Met agreed to pay 1 million dollars for this Greek vase, even though its provenance was unclear. It was probably the result of an illegal excavation in Etruria.

** THE EPILOGUE. In 2006, the Met announced that it would "relinquish ownership" of the Euphronios krater to the Italian government. In 2008, it was returned to Italy, and today it is on display at the Villa Giulia Museum - aka the Etruscan Museum - in Rome.

"The Medici Conspiracy" is based on a wide range of evidence, including interviews with many of the persons who are mentioned in the book. The authors tried to contact the three main protagonists of the story - Medici, Hecht, and True - but they were not able to get an interview with any of them.

In chapter 22 (and elsewhere) the authors refer to two British scholars, who have worked together on this issue: David Gill and Christopher Chippindale. Their article - published in the "American Journal of Archaeology" - is described as "probably the most damning academic study of antiquities looting ever to appear."

Watson and Todeschini got some good reviews. On the back cover of the paperback (and inside) there are excerpts from several positive reviews of the hardcover. I agree with them. "The Medici Conspiracy" is a great book about an important topic.

PS # 1. For more information about the Getty Museum, see Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino (2010, 2011).

PS # 2. For more information about the Met, see Rogues' Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Michael Gross (2009, 2010).
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