With Boston's Museum of Fine Arts nearing an accord with Italy over its collection of classical art acquired primarily from Italy both before and after the1983 UNESCO curb on antiquities trafficking - I thought it might be interesting to revisit a conversation I had with Cornelius Vermeule III, MFA's "swashbuckling" curator of classical art for almost 40 years (1957-1996).
Vermeule has also shared a long friendship with Bob Hecht, the dealer now on trial in Rome for antiquities trafficking, and he's acquired important antiquities from him as well -- like the beautiful statue of Sabina -- in which Hecht acted as "agent" for the November 1979 transaction. Hecht also sold an oil flask (lekythos) to MFA in November 1989, and in 1991, a South Italian amphora that he first owned was sold to the museum, depicting the murder of Atreus.
Other Hecht MFA sales, are less clear and the museum prefers to be mum about such acquisitions.
However, Hecht did tell Walter V. Robinson of the Boston Globe, that in mid-1997, shortly after Vermeule's retirement, he sold MFA a skyphos, an ancient silver cup valued at more than $400,000. Asked its origin, Hecht responded: "What does it matter?"
Vermeule like a good friend wrote an introduction to Hecht's 1988 Atlantis Antiquities Greek & Roman Archaic art show catalogue of mostly unprovenanced pieces, recently discussed here. [See… Add NYT To Bob Hecht Antiquities Ring Organigram?]
One of the stars of that show, an Etruscan terracotta votive head of a woman from 500 BC, Hecht described as "one of the finest pieces to have survived in clay". Its whereabouts are now anyone's guess.
Vermeule was also in the middle of the MFA's acquisition of the top half of the Herakles statue looted from Turkey (the bottom half is still in the Antalya Museum) and he authenticated priceless Athenian coins looted from Turkey that were sold to oil magnate/MFA trustee William Koch.
The coins have all now been recovered by the Turkish government, according to Larry Kaye, whose law firm has represented the Turkish government on various disputes involving ancient art, including the Lydian Hoard, which went back to Turkey in the early 1990s after a quarter century in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's basement.
Vermeule's late wife, Emily, was a Harvard archaeology professor who taught former Getty museum curator Marion True. Marion True is now Hecht's co-defendant in the Rome trial.
... the rest ...