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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon July 21, 2006
"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.), of which two of the worst offenders include New York City's venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum near Los Angeles (It is no exaggeration to surmise that the Getty Museum's antiquities collection is based almost entirely on loot; a point which the authors return to frequently.). They also strongly condemn the actions of major auction houses like Christie's, Bonham's, and especially Sotheby's, for aiding and abetting the lucrative illicit trade in stolen antiquities.

"The Medici Conspiracy" also tells the true story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's acquisition of the Euphronios krater (two-handled Classical Greek vase) - a story which has yet to be told fully by The New York Times - which both opens and closes this book. To the authors' everlasting credit, they recount the courageous actions of a young Metropolitan Museum of Art curator of Ancient Near East Art, Oscar W. Muscarella, who strongly objected to the museum's purchase of this vase from dealer Robert Hecht, recognizing that this important object had been excavated illegally from an Etruscan tomb in central Italy. For displaying such courage, Muscarella was fired three times (Only the third time was related directly to the Metropolitan Museum's acquisition of the Euphronios krater; one of the other instances was due to Muscarella's campaigning for equal pay to be granted to the museum's female employees.) by Thomas Hoving, the Metropolitan's director, and sued the museum successfully, before he was finally reinstated as a tenured associate curator in 1977 (A year later, Muscarella was given the unique position of Senior Research Fellow, a title which he holds still at the museum.). More than thirty years after Muscarella strongly voiced his objections, he finally seems to have been vindicated, with the ongoing trial of Robert Hecht, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's commitment to return the vase to Italy sometime in the next year or two (A distinguished alumnus of our high school, Muscarella is widely well regarded for his excellent scholarship on the archaeology of Anatolia (Western Turkey) in the First Millenium, B. C., was a visiting professor at Brown University, and has lectured often at Brown and elsewhere around the globe.).

I have a unique perspective on this issue given a longstanding interest in the relationship between commercial fossil collectors and professional paleontologists. You could substitute "fossil" for "antiquities" and obtain a sordid view of commercial fossil collecting that isn't too far removed from the authors' depiction of the "Medici Conspiracy" (But thankfully, there is better cooperation between some commercial fossil collectors and professional paleontologists; one notable example is the excellent relationship which the Black Hills Institute for Geological Research - the commercial collecting firm that excavated "Sue", the female Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton owned by McDonald's and displayed at Chicago's Field Museum - has fostered with distinguished invertebrate paleontologists from the United States Geological Survey and the American Museum of Natural History.).

I strongly commend Public Affairs for recognizing the importance of "The Medici Conspiracy" by publishing this definitive tome. It is indeed definitive since the illicit global trading of antiquities is regrettably a cultural crime against humanity; it is the most comprehensive examination I have come across on this illicit trade. Anyone who is interested in art, antiquities, museum collections, and private collections should definitely buy this book soon. I promise, you won't be disappointed.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
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
on May 30, 2006
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.

It took the cooperation of police departments all over the world and an extremely complex investigation lasting over a decade to stop Giacomo Medici, whose bizarre habit of having himself photographed in front of his most successful antiquities was a key element in the case against him. The investigation may have been complicated but the motives of those involved were pretty simple. Ambition on the part of museum curators played a part, with everyone scrapping to get the most prestigious collections, but mainly this story is about greed.

The irony is that so many players in this story could be so consumed by greed and so ignorant of value. The tombaroli found a buried room in Pompeii that had been untouched since Vesuvius erupted, and they chopped up the wall frescos to transport them more easily abroad and ruined the rest. A unique, unrepeatable archeological find, and it's treated like a stolen Dodge in a chop-shop.

There are no car chases or fiery explosions, but THE MEDICI CONSPIRACY is a gripping crime story of epic proportions.

--- Reviewed by Colleen Quinn (CQuinn9368@yahoo.com)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2006
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2007
This book is a well written, well researched book about looted antiquities. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject, or anyone interested in looted art in general. If I have any complaint, it is that the book at times gives too much information, which slows down the pace of the narrative as the author reveals how the investigation of Medici, Robert Hecht, Robin Symes, Marion True, and others came to pass.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2006
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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I give this book a definite four stars because it is a worthy representation of the story and gives the account of what happened with great zeal. The topic itself is fascinating. In my opinion, various Federal Art/Cultural Property Crime units would be well served by making this book mandatory reading for their agents. It stands as a clear insight into the dark realm of unlawful antiquities excavation, illicit smuggling and clandestine sale- an increasingly important issue in our "global economy" world where buyers and sellers can come together across oceans with little effort, and without regard to laws that may govern certain antiquities transactions.

At times, it reads a bit choppy. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the authors were careful to include all pertinent data, instead of sacrificing the volume of fact for the sake of the story. I almost feel bad detracting a star for this, but if you're going to sell a book as a story rather than an academic study, I do believe certain concessions should be made for ease of reading.

Nevertheless, still a great book, well worth purchasing. This book will probably become one of the classics on the topic of art smuggling and the attendant markets.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2007
This book is fascinating and important reading for anyone interested in the intersections of the art world, commerce and crime. The Medici Conspiracy is not the most deftly written, and at times seems more like a very, very, very long newspaper story than a book. Yet in the end the sheer force of the information it compiles, with detail and comprehension of the larger picture, leads to confidence in its conclusion: It is impossible to build, in modern times, a great collection of quality antiquities without relying chiefly on, and feeding and sustaining, unlawful traffic in looted items. The archeological countries also are at fault: If you leave hugely valuable items in the ground, and don't invest in excavating them under secure, academically and legally sound conditions, it is inevitable that illicit looters will do it for you.
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on December 15, 2014
Subject is fascinating, and book is well researched. Writing, however, is disappointing. Too many sentences begin with "there is" or "there are," word "great" is exhausted through overuse, and dangling modifiers create some unintended images. Thanks for important information. Better editing would make this book exceptional.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2006
Fascinating and Exiting, if you are at all interested in Arts and Antiquities.

Never would have thought that our top museums and auction houses are part of the conspiracy (ie. The Getty, The Met, Sothbys etc.).
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