The Euphronios vase, once the centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum’s ancient-vase collection, at the Villa Giulia in Rome. (Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times)

Italy’s biggest prize in the war against looting antiquities went on view recently at the Villa Giulia in Rome.

Italians didn’t seem to care much.

The prize is the notorious, magnificent sixth-century B.C. red-figure krater by the Greek artist Euphronios, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art lately returned: the “hot pot,” as Thomas Hoving, the former Met director who bought it in 1972, mischievously took to calling it. A show of recovered spoils at the Quirinale in Rome last year became the pot’s homecoming party, after which it was rushed, like a freshly anointed Miss Italy, off to an exhibition in Mantua, appropriately enough about beauty.

Now it’s ensconced at the villa, its new permanent home, in a bulky glass case with odd little Christmas lights. Maybe overexposure explains why this didn’t strike Italians as particularly big news. The media mostly gave the event a pass. The gallery was empty the other afternoon.

A new book may help revive interest. “The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece,” just published by William Morrow, makes a first-class page turner out of the stolen krater’s travels from ancient Greece to Etruscan Italy to New York and then back here — and of the travails of another work also by the sublime Euphronios, a kylix, or chalice, which was looted from the same spot here in Cerveteri, a town northwest of Rome.


Michael Kimmelman
New York Times