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The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities-- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums Paperback – June 12, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In light of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recent decision to return a rare—and by the Italian government's contention, stolen—vase painted by the Greek master Euphronios, Watson and Todeschini's colorful account of Giacomo Medici, an antiquities dealer found guilty of looting last year, and his illegal business dealings, is wonderfully prescient. Making sense of a lengthy catalogue of legal, artistic and forensic documentation, the authors meticulously map out Medici's underground network of middlemen and tombaroli, or tomb robbers, and link them to corrupt dealers such as Robin Symes as well as to established cultural institutions including Sotheby's, the John Paul Getty Museum and the Met—asserting that Medici supplied most, if not all, of the major collections of classical antiquities that have been established since WWII. Though Watson (Sotheby's: The Inside Story) and Todeschini often become overly indignant when decrying their story's villains and frequently bog down the narrative with long-winded dialogue and paper trail excerpts, they are at their best when chronicling the international adventures of various investigators, such as the Carabinieri Art Squad's raids on various Italian criminals to recover lost loot. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The sense of wonder experienced when contemplating the beauty and miraculous survival of an ancient Greek vase will be profoundly altered by this vigorous expose of criminal antiquities dealing. Investigative reporter and art crime specialist Watson and researcher Todeschini chronicle the astonishing exploits of Giacomo Medici, a nefarious Italian antiquities dealer and mastermind, as they accompany Colonel Roberto Conforti, head of the Carabinieri Art Squad, over the course of a complicated eight-year investigation. Writing with the zest and seduction of the finest crime novelists, Watson and Todeschini meticulously explicate every phase of Conforti's operation as he and his dedicated agents gradually unveil a well-organized circle of tomb raiders, smugglers, dealers, and, most shockingly, their scandalously complicit high-profile customers, including renowned collectors, premier auction houses, and world-class institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The authors offer an invaluable primer in antiquities, describe the looting of thousands of ancient tombs and the loss of irreplaceable archaeological sites, skewer disreputable curators, and decry the fate of "some of the finest objects ever produced by humankind" in a dramatic, fascinating, and rightfully indignant report on outrageous avarice and crimes against civilization. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (June 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586484389
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586484385
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Watson is the author of War on the Mind, Wisdom and Strength, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, Ideas, and The German Genius. Educated at the universities of Durham, London, and Rome, he has written for the Sunday Times, the Times, the New York Times, the Observer, and the Spectator. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on July 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums" reads like a contemporary page-turning crime thriller, but recounts a saga that is all too true, revealing a thirty-year old conspiracy which looted many of Italy's most important archaeological sites merely to satisfy the insatiable appetites of greedy American and European collectors and museum curators whose interest was solely in getting the best pieces possible for their collections, whatever the cost to their personal integrity and academic reputations. Peter Watson, Research Associate, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, and Cecilia Todeschini, a researcher and translator, have written a passionate, provocate look at the looting of archaeological sites, which should be regarded as the definitive examination of this sordid issue. Their insightful work of nonfiction covers the successful exploits of the Italian Carabineri Art Squad investigation code-named "Operation Geryon" that has led to the successful prosecution of Italian antiquities "dealer" (a more apt description would be professional thief) Giacomo Medici, and the ongoing trials of his American colleague Robert Hecht, and disgraced former Getty Museum curator Marion True (Both of them have received ample publicity in The New York Times, Washington Post, and elsewhere.). The authors also - I believe - note correctly the scandalous behavior of many major European and American museums in acquiring antiquities of dubious or unknown provenance (This means that these objects were most likely excavated illegally by the Tombaroli (Tomb Robbers) on behalf of Hecht, Medici and others of their ilk.Read more ›
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jedrury VINE VOICE on May 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
These two authors are passionate, eloquent and fully knowledgeable in convincingly telling the full story about the looting of the antiquities of Italy and elsewhere and in identifying the culprits. Next time at the Getty or the Met gander at those lovely antiquities because the bet is they were "looted" and without legitimate provenance. This book carefully and thoroughly uncovers the sordid truth.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on May 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Ever wonder where all the vases and statues in museums and antiquities collections come from? No? Join the club! As Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini demonstrate in meticulous detail, art dealers, auction houses and museum curators are also less than obsessed with the question, and their incuriosity has allowed a flourishing trade in vandalism, grave-robbing and trafficking.

Watson and Todeschini illustrate this appalling practice through the case of Giacomo Medici (no known relation to Lorenzo of the Italian Renaissance), whose systematic pillaging of Greek and Italian antiquities has devastated the field of archeology and robbed these countries of their heritage. Let's say an ancient Greek vase comes on the market. This vase is supposed to have a provenance, a documented history of legal ownership and an explanation of how it came to be excavated. Both buyers and sellers are supposed to ensure that this provenance is accurate. How would such an item come to lack a provenance? It could be stolen from a museum or established collection, it could be a fake, or it simply could have been illegally dug out of the ground, never reported, and the paperwork manipulated to get it out of the country.

Giacomo Medici used all these tactics and more, with the willing complicity of collaborators ranging from rustic tomb-robbers (tombaroli, as they're called) to the swankiest auction houses and museums all over the world, including Sotheby's, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on August 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When you have something small, easily moved, requires no special handling such as refrigeration, very valuable, and willing customers, it's pretty easy to guess what happens.

This book is a window into the world of illegal art. It begins with an armed robbery and a chase. It develops into the discovery of a world wide network of theves and apparently willing customers who appear willing to spend literally millions of dollars for items the seller may have stolen.

In the movies the purchaser is a private collector who is taking the art into his private collection, never to be seen again. Here though, the purchasers are big time auction houses (Southeby's), famous museums (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Getty).

This book is a fascinating introduction to the world depicted in Pink Panther and Cary Grant movies.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By BARBARA OFARRELL on August 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson is an amazing account, thoroughly researched, beautifully written, with marvelous photographs. It is literally a fascinating mystery, revealed and solved. I applaud the Italians and commend Oscar White Muscarella for his life-long good fight.
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