Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion “Tomb Raider” True’s legal struggles have now extended in to Greece where she faces charges for having knowingly purchased a looted 4th Century BC golden funerary wreath. Among many points of interest in a fabulously juicy story (see NYTimes article) is the claim that she bought the piece through a Swiss middleman for the staggeringly cheap price of 1.1 million USD. Geez, you can’t even get a half-way decent Csontvary for that kinda money. I mean get a load of this thing:
If it is authentic (and we can only assume it is, given all the hullabaloo over it), then it would be one of the world’s finest examples of Hellenic applied arts. The thing that jumps out at you is the perkiness of the flowers. Which indicates (unless this piece has been seriously restored) that it had rested in open air, un-crushed by rocks and gravel. In other words, in a somewhat intact tomb.
If this piece had been freely tradeable on the open market, say it had been in the collection of some batty Scottish Duke for 2 centuries, and is now coming up for sale, then it’s value would have been been more like 100 million USD. There are very few things this fabulous you could buy at any price, and keep in mind that Hellenic art was the original art object. That’s what the Roman art market was based on. That’s what the Renaissance art market was obsessed with. The only reason we don’t see it challenging the peak prices of Klimts and Picassos is because all the good pieces are already in public collections, and anything else got dug up illegally.
I will return to this story quite a bit since there’s so much in it. But here are some important points we learn from the case:
Switzerland is still the transit point for dubious deals. Nothing’s changed since WWII. True’s troubles began when Italian Police raided the Swiss warehouse of Giacomo Medici.
Once objects have been looted, it’s not always even sure who’s dirt they got dug from. Archeology.org has been following the story and provided excellent photos of the seized goods. But they also report that experts are divided over which works came from Italy and which from Greece…or other places.
Objects traded illegally sell dramatically cheaper.
This story should provide material for years to come, so and I leave you now with images of two of the main characters.