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Looted Antiques

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Earlier this year New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art agreed to return the famed Euphronios krater to Italy, bowing to evidence it had been looted. Thomas Hoving, the former Met director responsible for the krater's controversial purchase 34 years ago, weighs in.

What makes the Euphronios krater so exceptional? There's hardly anything equal to it. It's up there with the Parthenon frieze. It retains a verve. You look at that beautiful body that has just breathed its last, those feathered wings that look as if they're about to fly out of there, and those figures—they're just about to move. It's full of life.

Is it hard to see the Met lose one of its gems, a work you acquired? They don't show the piece particularly well. They just dumped it in with a bunch of red-figured vases—junk and kitchen material. Maybe the Italians will treat it better. I hope.

Will you go see the krater before it is returned? Absolutely. And I'll go see it in Rome. I'm sure it will come back for visits. The important thing in all this is not some petty crooks but how Italy, for the first time, changed its laws to lend really good stuff long-term. That's the watershed. The Italians aren't all that interested in having the thing back—they wanted to win. It's about pride: You Yanks have ripped us off for years and now we've got proof. Bend a knee and start slobbering.

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