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A Trip to Oxford

To get a better handle on the illicit antiquities trade I headed to familiar ground, Oxford, where I had earned an archaeology master’s degree in the late 1990s—and where, it later turned out, I would return to do a doctoral thesis on Euphronios’s Sarpedon chalice. Oxford’s archaeology lab had come under fire for its commercial authentication service, shutting it down in 1997 while I was studying there. Recalling the episode, I visited the new director of the lab, Professor Mark Pollard, who explained why the university had stopped serving the private trade. This argument made total sense: authentication can increase an object’s value tenfold, he said. “The nub of it is, Does that encourage illicit trade in antiquities? I guess it probably does,” the bearded Professor Pollard, pipe in one hand, said.

Afterward he showed me around the lab, which was really a ramshackle series of rooms scattered around a Victorian row house. As we walked up and down creaky wooden staircases and snaked through narrow hallways, he explained that the lab would soon have a modern home in the university’s nearby science area. He also said it was a funny coincidence that I had come around asking about the old thermoluminescence testing business. To prepare for the move, he needed to do something with all the records from the now-defunct TL service. Maybe I would have a use for them, he suggested.

We walked up to the building’s top floor to see if we could get at the archive, which was boxed away up in the attic. But when we got to the trapdoor that needed to be pulled down if we were to haul ourselves up there, Professor Pollard, who had recently injured his arm, realized he shouldn’t try the tricky move. I couldn’t imagine I was missing much, so we moved on. As we said good-bye, the professor again said he wasn’t sure what would happen with the files—maybe they would move to the new building, or he would give them to someone who could make good use of them. Either way, I should let him know if I was interested.

For the moment, I wasn’t. What did I want with stacks of old paperwork on the authentication of ceramics?

In just a matter of months, a few cases being tried at the Rome Tribunal had suddenly made Italy’s long-standing demands for artifacts more than just the chatter of Italian bureaucrats whining that the Americans should give back their stolen treasures. Legally, Medici’s conviction, and the pending trials of Hecht and True, changed everything. And then the media jumped in.

The Los Angeles Times reporters Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch, who had been digging into unrelated misdeeds at the Getty, followed their reporting to Rome and the piles of evidence the police had uncovered. They even published a front-page story on the Met’s Sarpedon krater, detailing the contents of the Hecht manuscript the Carabinieri found in 2001. “Italy Says It’s Proven Vase at Met Was Looted,” the headline of their October 28, 2005, story read. In it they quoted the Met’s former director Thomas Hoving, who said of the Hecht memoir, “It proves, as the final nail in the coffin, where it came from.”

The Euphronios krater, after three decades, was front-page news again. This time around it would be harder for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to dismiss the publicity being generated by the new evidence.

Meanwhile in New York, journalist Suzan Mazur, who had covered the Hunt auction of the Sarpedon chalice in 1990 for the Economist, saw the Euphronios news. She e-mailed me, expressing interest in the story that was developing in Italy, and asked what seemed like an odd question: in my reporting on Euphronios, had I run into any news about the kylix?

I had no idea what she was talking about. She explained that the Met’s vase had a smaller twin, this kylix wine cup, and that it hadn’t been seen in public since a “European Dealer” bought it at the Hunt sale.

In the year following Medici’s December 2004 conviction for antiquities smuggling, something changed in him, both physically and mentally. It wasn’t one thing in particular, but his troubles seemed to add up and an anguish crept up on him. He’d always smiled, with his wife, children, and friends, but it no longer came naturally. He had trouble falling asleep at night, robbed of the simple joy of rest. Medici stayed up late in his compound overlooking the sea at Santa Marinella, a fifteen-acre plot on which he had built a swimming pool and two tennis courts and cultivated a rustic lifestyle tending to his vegetable garden, three hundred olive trees, and a menagerie that included geese, ducks, horses, eighteen dogs, and an albino pony. The centerpiece of the compound was his pink mansion in which he passed his time surrounded by the library of his case’s legal documents, which he stored on bookshelves in his study and organized in neat piles across the top of his dining room table, annotated with highlighter markers and color tabs. Sometimes he retreated to his basement, where he had made a virtual shrine to Euphronios, complete with a replica of the Sarpedon krater and a coffee table filled with books on the Greek master.

Eventually he would get sleepy, and he’d say to himself, “Ah, I’m tired, now I’m going to sleep,” and then he’d lie down in his bed and wait. Yet the sleep wouldn’t come. He would say, “Giacomo, sleep, sleep.” But there was another Giacomo inside him who said, “Stay awake.”

The psychological forces acting on him were “diabolic,” he thought. And he blamed them on the way the judge had convicted him: with what Medici believed was inconclusive evidence and motivated by politics that aimed to reclaim Italy’s treasures from abroad. What bothered him most was that he believed he’d been convicted of trumped-up charges, and he’d otherwise accept the sentence if there were legitimate proof of his guilt. Whether the sentence was right or wrong, it just wasn’t fair.

“I’m not here to say I’m innocent,” Medici said while trying to explain his state. “In this world, the innocent practically don’t exist and everyone has things to account for. I recognize the course I’ve taken—sometimes good, sometimes bad. But, the thing I’m talking about, the thing that makes me sick is the sources of their proof, how I was condemned. I was condemned by motivations that are the shame of the justice system, a dishonor.”

I first met Giacomo Medici on November 5, 2005, after convincing one of his lawyers to give me his mobile phone number. Although I was thrilled to interview a real-live convicted antiquities smuggler, I was also concerned for my safety. No, he wasn’t going to attack me or anything, but meeting Medici made me nervous. Medici, who was out of prison while he appealed, had a reputation for not abiding those who crossed him; from what I had read of the case documents, some of his detractors cast him as a Mafioso. To my relief, he agreed to see me in public, at the bar of Rosati, a café on Piazza del Popolo. I didn’t want him to know where I worked or lived, or anything about my family. I had to remind myself to hold my tongue if we began discussing personal details.

Then he arrived, smiling broadly. Medici was gray and mostly bald, stocky, but fit, looking younger than his sixty-seven years. He wore a blue Lacoste V-neck sweater over a Fay tennis shirt—a brand popular for some reason among Italians seeking to project an upper-class British look.

On his left hand, Medici wore a gold ring etched with the image of Heracles slaying the lion of Nemea. According to myth, the Greek hero was sure to lose his battle against the fierce animal, but Heracles’ ingenuity triumphed over the beast’s brawn. He stunned the lion and then strangled it.

Medici spent most of our meeting railing against the prosecutor and judge who convicted him on what he said was flawed evidence. When I asked about his ring, he said he saw himself as Heracles in his own fight against the Rome magistrates. “The lion, in this case, is the justice system, and I hope intelligence triumphs,” he said.

Then he quickly pointed out that the ring, which he had worn on and off for the previous fifteen or twenty years, was a modern copy of an ancient piece of jewelry. It was not a looted artifact, he said—just in case I was suspicious.

Finally deciding not to ignore Mazur’s question about the missing chalice, I turned to the Met’s former director Thomas Hoving to see what he knew. I had dealt with him on some earlier reporting on the krater, and I thought maybe he would know something about the missing cup.

I e-mailed him:

What do you know about the kylix by Euphronios that was in the Hunt collection (that like the krater, also depicts Sarpedon). Was it also offered to you at the same time as the krater?

Hoving responded that he had mentioned the kylix in his 1993 memoir, Making the Mummies Dance.

Hecht showed it to me and von Bothmer in Feb. 1973 and the price was 70K. I was tempted, for it was like having an early and a mature Leonardo.

He added the bit about Hecht saying the provenance was a Norwegian collection and that the Met couldn’t buy the cup because of the krater controversy. “The kylix was sold by Hecht’s secret LA partner Bruce McNall, the hockey mogul and numismatist,” Hoving continued.

McNall sold it to Bunker and it showed up in the Hunt sale whereupon Levy presumably bought it and also presumably, if he did, it will come to the MMA when the Levy-White collection is finally given.

Hoving’s theory about the current whereabouts of the Sarpedon chalice—the Levy-White collection—was the most plausible that had floated around the art world. After all, Leon Levy had bought the fragmentary Euphronios krater at the Hunt auction, and the chalice had been the subsequent lot up for grabs that June evening. I had no way of confirming the widely held belief that the chalice sat on White’s shelf on Manhattan’s East Side, but if I wanted to track down the Sarpedon kylix, there was one daunting resource at my fingertips that I could consult: the 659-page sentence Judge Muntoni had written to convict Medici.

Among its contents were long lists of objects: those contained in museum collections that were linked to Medici, those sold at Sotheby’s by Medici, those for which Medici had been accused of smuggling but was found innocent, those he had been suspected of smuggling but turned out to be fakes, those found at Medici’s warehouse that turned out not to be from Italy, those seized at his Geneva warehouse that had been shipped to Italy—both those for which he had been convicted of smuggling and those for which he’d been acquitted. It went on and on like that. To find what I was searching for, I had to eyeball the whole thing, looking for the words kylix or Euphronios.

Page after page, I flipped through Medici’s sentence. The word Euphronios kept popping up, but nothing matched what I needed. Then I spotted a kylix on page 419. In a section in which the judge discussed objects from the Hunt collection he wrote, “The Euphronios Kylix, registered as no. 955 of the seized works, bought by MEDICI at auction in 1990 as lot 6, and by the same artist, Euphronios, and of the same subject, the death of Sarpedon, as the krater also sold by MEDICI and HECHT to the Metropolitan Museum; together with that work it is evident that they came from the same burial; in the HECHT memoir there is an explicit reference to MEDICI having received that Kylix and that its link to the Krater, being part of the same burial was revealed in a ‘betrayal’ by Hoving, the director of the Metropolitan Museum.”

Mazur really was on to something, I thought, as I learned for the first time that the Sarpedon krater had a smaller twin that might have also come from the same tomb. Even if Muntoni was making a conclusion about the chalice’s origins that was not definitively backed by the evidence, I was intrigued. Where could I find details on the fate of object number 955 from the seized works?

I kept poring over the conviction until I found a list on page 614. “Attic red figure cup,” it said. “With Hypnos and Thanatos and the body of Sarpedon. Euphronios.”

I’d found it. According to the header on the list, it was among the objects that had been seized from Medici at the Geneva Free Port. I just needed to find out where it was now and how it had ended up there. I called Medici and explained that I was interested in the kylix by Euphronios. He said something about the “broken” one, and I had to correct him; I wasn’t talking about the huge, fragmentary kylix painted by Onesimos and potted by Euphronios. I was talking about a cup painted by Euphronios, with Sarpedon on it.

Yes, Medici said, he had not misspoken. The Sarpedon kylix was broken, too. I thought he was making no sense. The cup Bunker Hunt sold in 1990 was in one piece. What was Medici talking about? He agreed to meet me again that weekend to shed some light.

With Marion True’s trial looming, the Getty decided to return three objects to Italy—a Southern Italian krater, a stone carving, and an Etruscan bronze—whose illicit origins had been clearly established. Instead of taking the Getty’s move as a peace offering, the Italian culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, used a November 11, 2005, news conference announcing the returns as a moment to declare war on museums that had acquired looted antiquities. “The old spirit will not last,” Buttiglione, a rightwing member of billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government, said with his trademark lisp. “It’s not open territory for stealing.”

This was not the first time Italy had demanded that foreign museums send back antiquities, but in the past they didn’t have ammunition to back up their indignation. This time was different. For one, the international media started paying attention, causing huge image problems for the museums. And the Schultz case showed that the American legal system was available for Italy to use against the museums and other collectors. Not only was Italy willing to drag them all into court, but the Italians could be helped by the Justice Department and agents from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. Representatives from both those departments were seated in the first row of the press conference at the Carabinieri Art Squad Operational Headquarters in Rome. “Thanks for what you’ve done,” Buttiglione told them.

The minister had his ammo on display: prosecutor Paolo Ferri, who made a rare press conference appearance just five days before he was to present his opening arguments in the trial of Marion True.

Responding to reporters’ questions, Buttiglione made it clear he was just starting. “Contacts with other museums are in course and we’ll hopefully have positive results,” he said. In exchange for their cooperation, he added, the museums were being offered long-term loans of similar objects and other cultural cooperation. But he did not mince his words about artifacts that had been removed illegally. “That which is the property of Italy should return to the Italian people.”

Pressed on what museums he’d pursue after the Getty, Buttiglione dropped a bombshell. “I have asked Mr. de Montebello to come to Rome to talk to experts.” The Met was next, and its director had just been summoned to hear the evidence against his museum.

Breakfast on Saturdays is a quiet time at Rome’s Hotel de Russie, a palazzo with an ultramod interior renovation, which caters to high-end business travelers and movie stars. With few people around, it was ideal for meeting with a smuggler about his missing chalice.

After ordering coffee, juice, and some pastries in the hotel bar, Medici ran me through the basics on the Sarpedon chalice. Yes, he revealed, he was the “European Dealer” who bought it at the Hunt auction for $742,500—outbidding the Met’s agent in a nail-biting battle—shipped it to the Geneva Free Port, and even bought a fireproof safe where he stored the cup. He described the other four vases he bought at the 1990 auction and how he had insured the whole lot at Lloyds of London.

But Medici cared most about Euphronios, who he said had employed superhuman talent to paint the intricate lines on the small cup, all without being able to see how it would turn out. “To make a piece like this you need the eyes of a falcon,” he said. And he regaled me with even more details of the kylix’s journey: seized in the 1995 raid and then dropped in the 1998 inventory. Now I understood what he meant about the cup being broken.

But did he know what had happened to the chalice since? He did.

The most recent leg of the cup’s twenty-five-hundred-year journey had begun in 2000, when the Swiss turned over to Italy 1,973 artifacts seized from Medici’s warehouse. A private moving company drove the cache from Geneva to Rome. The Sarpedon chalice, the earliest known work by Euphronios, sat in pieces onboard the truck among the statues and pots.

When the truck arrived in the Italian capital, its contents became evidence, held under the guardianship of the Rome Tribunal. The shippers unloaded the antiquities at the Villa Giulia museum, which was becoming a holding pen for artifacts in legal limbo. The storage space of choice was not in the main museum building, but an odd edifice on the museum’s grounds, the Temple of Alatri, a life-sized reproduction of an Etruscan temple, built there between 1889 and 1890. The windowless shrine was perfect, with a columned portico and triangular roof trimmed in red, green, and gold, decorated all around with terra-cotta antefixes that look like little angels. Crucially, two hulking doors standing nearly two stories high protected the temple. There in that darkness, the Sarpedon kylix—in dozens of fragments—had found its new home.

In early 2002, Medici decided he needed to find out if the chalice’s fragments were being properly stored—and if they were actually still at Villa Giulia. After all, the Sarpedon cup had been his single most valuable piece of merchandise. If he ever got out of this legal mess, that kylix was his meal ticket—if it could be fixed.

Medici arranged a meeting with Paolo Ferri, pleading with him at his modern offices near the Vatican for a chance to see his own property. Technically, Medici was within his rights to do so, and Ferri told him to put the request in writing. Medici had hundreds of artifacts under seal of the court, but of them, his lost chalice was the only one he wanted to see.

Medici included with his request his willingness to have Marshal Salvatore Morando from the Carabinieri art squad present for the visit, along with Daniela Rizzo, the archaeologist at the museum who had been busy in recent months directing the examination of the documents and artifacts seized in the Geneva raid. The same day Medici submitted the request, Ferri approved it, scribbling his instructions that both Rizzo and a member of the art police be present and stamping it with the seal of the Rome Tribunal.

Medici visited the museum with a former academic from Rome University and Palermo University whom Medici had also brought along as his consultant to the Geneva Free Port in July 1997.

The museum staff removed the box, which was about two and a half feet long, a foot wide, and a foot deep, from the ersatz temple. They walked the box inside the main museum building to an office surrounded by glass walls. Inside, and under the watchful eye of Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini, the technician who was working to make sense of Medici’s photo archives for the prosecution, Medici was able to lay his hands on his missing chalice.

He knew the kylix was broken, but he was shocked to see that the pieces had been scooped into plastic bags where the jagged corners of the fragments could rub against the painted surface. Inside the bags, bits of the twenty-five-hundred-year-old cup—some the size of tiny pebbles and grains of sand—shifted around at the bottoms of the plastic sacks. Medici asked the museum staff for paper in which he would wrap the sharp fragments to protect them from each other. They brought him some newspapers, and Medici carefully took each of the Euphronios shards and repackaged them, first in the paper, and then back into the plastic bags.

In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, the most shocking scene is the final one, in which a government worker nails the golden Ark of the Covenant into a wooden box, padlocks it, and stencils it “Top Secret Army Intel 9906753 Do Not Open!” The box is then wheeled down the corridor of an anonymous government warehouse. The camera pulls back to reveal an endless sea of such boxes. The Ark that has been so hard to capture is lost again.

And so it seemed on that day in 2002. The curators put the bags containing the shards of the Sarpedon chalice back in their box and put the box on a shelf with so many other unseen antiquities. After turning out the light in the imitation temple, they locked the massive wooden doors with a single key.

The years had ticked by, yet the fragments remained there, their fate uncertain. In 2004, the chalice had been one of the hundreds of objects that Judge Muntoni convicted Medici of smuggling—and the judge had even ruled that the evidence showed the Sarpedon cup and krater had come from the same tomb. The chalice was also among the dozens for which Hecht was indicted. That meant Medici’s upcoming appeal could determine what would happen to the cup’s remains; if convicted, the chalice would become the property of Italy, and if Medici was acquitted, it might return to him. If the Sarpedon cup did revert to Medici, he might just turn around and sell the pieces to the highest bidder.

Whether Medici or the government would—or should—win the chalice depended on the strength of the evidence that the kylix had been excavated in Italy and trafficked by Medici and Hecht. So far, though, that evidence was pretty thin. Prosecutors knew Hecht had once owned the cup, according to what Thomas Hoving and Dietrich von Bothmer had said in the past. And they knew Hecht had written in his memoir that the men at the Met had betrayed him by revealing his possession of the cup. The Italians also had the old rumors from Cerveteri that a cup by Euphronios had been found along with the krater.

Some of this barely qualified as circumstantial evidence. Might there be a way to find definitive proof that both the Sarpedon kylix and krater were looted from Cerveteri and trafficked by Medici and Hecht? After all, the only hard evidence Ferri had used to convict Medici for smuggling the krater was Hecht’s memoir and Marion True’s testimony that von Bothmer knew the tomb site.

Toward the end of our breakfast, Medici mentioned that he had photographed the kylix fragments during his visit to the Villa Giulia storeroom. Medici pulled red sheets of construction paper out of his leather briefcase. He had stapled the photos on the stiff paper and attached clear plastic over them. I wanted to see them in better light, in part to photograph them, so we carried the pictures out of the bar and into the terraced inner courtyard of the hotel. Laying them down on a cocktail table, I took a look in the bright morning sunshine.

In one set, taken by Medici, the chalice’s fragments were crammed into plastic bags, their famous images visible but slightly out of focus. This was certainly the cup I had seen in the Hunt catalog, but in a condition as bad as Medici had described. Medici displayed another set of pictures, the ones the Swiss police had taken of his cup after Inspector Baudin dropped it. Medici had obtained the photos by exercising his right as a defendant to see all the evidence.

The photos taken right after the accident were much clearer. Laid out as they were on a sheet of white tissue paper, in no particular order and turned in different directions, it took some mental gymnastics to reimagine the front face of the cup they once composed. The pieces ranged in size from grains of sand and slivers the dimension of fingernail clippings, to bigger chunks the size of coins. In all, I counted about a hundred. Turning the photo around, I could make out bits of deities and warriors.

But the cup appeared to be beyond repair. “Nobody knows what the level of damage is,” Medici said. He couldn’t tell, even from these pictures, whether the eyes on the faces of the figures on the cup had been cracked. The eyes were the most crucial details in determining whether a fragmentary vase could be recomposed as something of artistic and financial value, he said. And the amount of money at stake was huge. If it had never broken, the Sarpedon kylix would have been worth at least $5 million by then, and perhaps as much as $10 million.

But it wasn’t intact. The value of the bags of shards depended on whether the cup could be fixed, and if so, how much of it could be saved.

The trial of Robert Hecht and Marion True began at the Rome Tribunal on November 16, 2005. A three-judge panel convened to hear the case, led by its president, Gustavo Barbalinardo, who was flanked by Aurora Cantillo and Patrizia Campolo. The defendants did not need to be there, but just before the hearing began, True showed up. Hecht did not.

True, with a blond-red hairdo and a long black jacket, did everything she could to avoid the crush of reporters who crammed the back of the room.

The hearing was mostly ceremonial. Judge Barbalinardo read the indictment aloud, with some difficulty; sorting through the charges and all its lists of objects was difficult even for the man running the trial.

One person who was eager to talk, and was well informed about the case, was Maurizio Fiorilli, a lawyer from the Italian attorney general’s office who was representing the Culture Ministry in the civil portion, which was being tried concurrently with the criminal charges. Speaking in the corridor during a break, he explained what the Italian government was after. “Our intention is to cut off the illicit traffic, and to cut it off we have to get the American museums to stop buying,” he said. This was no idle threat, for as the meeting with the Met’s Philippe de Montebello approached, the government had given Fiorilli the additional task of being the chief negotiator in talks with foreign museums.

The day’s session ended with little action other than True dashing out of the court complex’s gates, trying to avoid the news media. Her lawyer, Franco Coppi, spoke for her instead: “Signora True insists that she bought these objects in good faith.”

Two days later, I figured out why Hecht wasn’t at his trial’s opening. Speaking by phone from his apartment in Paris, he explained he had been in Athens, visiting museums. I called him to see what he might tell me about the origins of the Sarpedon chalice. Had he offered it to the Met for $70,000, as Hoving had claimed?

“It was about that price,” Hecht said. “When a friend of mine sold it to Bunker Hunt at a much bigger price, I was considered unfaithful to the Met.”

And where exactly had he gotten the chalice?

“I bought it from Medici for $25,000, before the sale of the krater,” he said.

I’d never heard him or Medici admit these details before. I asked Hecht when he’d first met Medici?

“In 1967 or ’68,” Hecht said. This admission was key for two reasons: it contradicted Medici’s official plea that he hadn’t met Hecht until 1974, and it was consistent with what Hecht wrote in his manuscript. This was further evidence that the manuscript was a true account, and not a work of fiction, as Hecht claimed.

And when Hecht finally did sell the Sarpedon cup, how much did he make? “I don’t remember. All I remember is I got a good sum for it.”

Hecht, in a few short minutes, had provided the linchpin to the entire mystery of the Sarpedon chalice, and its origins with Giacomo Medici. I immediately phoned Medici. When I told him that Hecht said he’d bought the kylix from him, the line went silent. Then Medici made noises that sounded as if the wind had just been knocked out of him. He stammered: “I don’t know what to think anymore. He must have made a pact with the prosecutor,” Medici said. “I’m shocked.”

If Medici and Hecht had made a deal not to talk about their old deals, Hecht’s revelation spoiled it. Ferri was eagerly trying to turn the suspected dealers and curators against one another, and Medici could only imagine that he had succeeded. In the meantime, Medici composed himself and stuck to his story.

“I never sold this kylix. This was never mine,” he said. And he denied Hecht’s version of their original meeting as being in the late 1960s, as Hecht had written in his manuscript. They first met in 1974 at a coin sale in Zurich, Medici said, reiterating the claim he was making in the appeal of his conviction.

“He’s eighty-six, and I don’t know about his memory,” Medici said. He suggested that perhaps I should remind Hecht that the correct story had the chalice coming from an old Scandinavian collection.

I hung up with Medici and called Hecht in Paris. After explaining Medici’s objections to what Hecht had told me, Hecht cheerfully changed his story.

Medici says he didn’t sell you the kylix, I told him.

“Maybe he didn’t,” Hecht said.

Medici says to remind you that the kylix came from a Scandinavian collection, and that you didn’t pay him $25,000 for it.

“That is possible. Come to think of it, he would never sell it for $25,000. He was pricey,” Hecht said.

I chuckled as I thanked Hecht again for his time and hung up. It was the weakest denial I had ever heard, and I figured Hecht meant it that way. Most important, I’d finally figured out that Medici had been the missing link—once again—in the path of the chalice. Not only had he been the anonymous buyer at the 1990 Hunt auction, but two decades earlier he had been the original dealer.

I now knew the chain of possession, but where had the chalice come from in the first place, and where would it eventually end up?

Philippe de Montebello, the Metropolitan Museum’s director, and the Italian delegation led by Maurizio Fiorilli agreed to meet in Rome on November 22, 2005. The setting was to be a soaring, wood-paneled library in the Culture Ministry’s headquarters, the building connected to the very chambers where Galileo had faced the Inquisition.

Fiorilli, the lawyer representing the ministry, was the first to arrive, a little before the meeting’s scheduled 2:00 P.M. start. Officers from the Carabinieri art squad arrived next. And then de Montebello, wearing a blue suit, red tie, and a blue V-neck sweater to ward off the November chill. Since taking over from Hoving in 1977, Paris-born de Montebello and his baritone had become the face and voice of the Met. He had managed to stay in the job three times as long as his predecessor, yet he was still grappling with the krater mess that Hoving had gotten the museum into a generation before. Alongside de Montebello walked a shorter man, of almost the same age, sporting a bow tie, buzz cut, and fashionably bookish, round eyeglass frames. This was Danny Berger, a sometimes employee of the Met who under Hoving’s reign three decades earlier had helped pioneer the concept of the ultracommercial gift shop, which had since become a merchandising cash cow for the Met.

Berger now worked as a consultant to both the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Met. His dual roles and fluency in Italian and English made him a perfect facilitator for such negotiations. For the Met it was also convenient that he was trusted and cross-deputized by both sides of the talks.

De Montebello and Berger chatted as they came up the cobblestoned street and turned left into the ministry’s grand doorway. Berger waved his neatly folded copy of the International Herald Tribune at the woman in the security booth, who pushed a button to let them in through the palazzo’s glass inner doors.

Though the minister had summoned him, de Montebello had to talk to underlings for now. In the library he heard the police present their evidence and Rizzo and Pellegrini from the Villa Giulia museum go over their findings from the analysis of the photos and other documents from Medici’s warehouse. De Montebello’s Italian was good enough that he didn’t much need Berger’s translation help.

After it looked like things were going well, the minister arrived in his black car with his tiny security entourage. “Let’s go to the delivery room,” he said as he headed upstairs.

De Montebello never made a statement. Berger, who knew better than most ministry employees how the various buildings on the historic block link together, helped the Met’s director find an alternate exit, away from the news photographers and reporters who lingered outside.

As the rest of the participants trickled out, Giuseppe Proietti, the ministry’s head of research who had trailed the Euphronios krater for three decades since his days as a young archaeologist in Cerveteri, was the last to emerge. “It was a very productive meeting,” he said. “Vediamo.” We’ll see.

After filing a story about the broken kylix, I sent a copy of Medici’s photo of the fragments, with his permission, to journalist Suzan Mazur. She wrote her own story about the Euphronios flap, including the picture I had sent her. Thomas Hoving saw the story and the photo. The former Met chief, who once had the chance to buy the Sarpedon chalice, sent me an e-mail on December 5, 2005.

“There are some very odd things about this kylix,” Hoving wrote. For one thing, “The kylix photo Hecht showed me in ’73 was INTACT.”

Hoving’s e-mail continued:

The smashed kylix is either NOT the one I saw nor the Hunt one bought by Medici but another something. The fragments as you and Mazur publish them could NOT be put back into the Hunt kylix—for one thing no fragment of the base is there and only one handle.

He also said the photos from the Hunt auction seemed like a less complete kylix than the one in the photos Hecht had showed him.

What is the photo of the vase dropped by the Swiss cop said to be and why? Think about why I saw a photo of an INTACT kylix with Sarpedon being hauled away like a large log in 1973 which then turned into a fragmentary Sarpedon kylix in the Hunt collection and which now is a smashed whatever that could not possibly be turned into either what I saw or the Hunt-Medici kylix. I’d treasure your speculation.

A little shaken, I started to type out a reply, sorting through the possibilities. What puzzled me most was that Hoving had helped me connect the dots in the first place—from Hecht’s kylix to the Hunt kylix to the 1990 auction—and now he was casting doubt on whether we were dealing with the same cup. Maybe he was confused by the photo, which only represented the portion of the chalice that had broken into about a hundred pieces and not the entirety of what Medici had bought.

I replied that there was another portion of the kylix that didn’t break, including the base and a second handle, and they weren’t in the photo.

Hoving, who was surfing the Internet in his Upper East Side apartment with a touch-screen portable tablet computer, piggybacking on his neighbors’ wireless connections, responded quickly. “Okay! so what you published was not the whole thing,” he wrote. “Now I believe they’re the same.”

What a relief. He had simply been thrown by the appearance of only part of the kylix in the photo of the fragments. But he didn’t let go of the idea that the Hunt kylix and what Hecht had showed him seemed to be two different cups. I thought Hoving simply needed to see some better pictures of the Hunt-Medici kylix to convince himself that this was the same cup Hecht had showed him a picture of in 1973. Maybe he could find a copy of that old photo. Maybe he could show these newer photos to Dietrich von Bothmer, who lived a few blocks away. The semire-tired curator would surely be able to confirm this was the same cup. I told Hoving that I would ship him some good photos of the broken kylix, along with some other documents describing its dimensions.

That should clear things up.

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