On the trail of a looted chalice, Vernon Silver exposes the dark side of the antiquities trade, from tomb robbers in Italy to museum curators in New York and Los Angeles.
For anyone who has ever stood under the halogen lights of a museum and wondered just where, exactly, an Etruscan artifact is from, Vernon Silver has the answer, which may involve tomb raiders, smugglers, unscrupulous art dealers, and willfully blind museum curators. A Rome-based correspondent for Bloomberg who is also an Oxford-trained archeologist, Silver, in his new book, The Lost Chalice, describes the seedy underworld of the antiquities trade in such vivid detail that one can almost smell the fresh earth of a pillaged archeological site.
The unbridled looting of Italy’s buried treasures before 1970 is one of this country’s darkest cultural chapters. Thousands of valuable artifacts were fished from the soil and sold to art dealers, who passed them on to private collectors and major museums. A 1970 Unesco convention on cultural heritage exposed the illicit practice and established procedures for repatriating stolen goods. Countries trying to reclaim their antiquities from museums around the world have better luck with those acquired after the 1970 accord. Those acquired before the pact generally stay on the museum shelves.