Due to the value of art and cultural heritage on the international market, Italy has faced rampant looting for centuries. However, in the early 1970s, a highly coveted piece of ancient art was illicitly removed from Italy’s borders, and it eventually brought global attention to the issue of looting.
In November 1972, the Metropolitan Museum of Art
acquired the Sarpedon krater, better known as the “Euphronios krater
.” The museum paid $1 million for it, the highest price
ever paid by a museum for an antiquity at the time. Immediately, Italian authorities raised concerns about the object’s provenance; they believed the krater had been illicitly removed from Italy, but they were unable to prove the object’s origin.
The TPC’s investigations eventually revealed the truth, beginning in the 1990s, when the Carabinieri discovered evidence of an illicit antiquities network that linked the Euphronios krater to a specific looted Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri, Italy. The Carabinieri raided the Swiss warehouse of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici and discovered that he bought the krater directly from the tomb robbers. Thanks to the investigation, Italy and the Met reached an agreement to return over a dozen objects, including the Euphronios krater, to the Mediterranean nation. Title to the krater was transferred back to Italy in January 2008, and the object was ultimately returned to Cerveteri, where it is on permanent display at an archaeology museum. The Carabinieri was responsible for the successful investigation and the revelation of a wide-scale looting network that ultimately sold works to reputable museums and through major auction houses. Although the return of the Euphronios krater is one of the best-known repatriations, the TPC touts many important recoveries.