Three Bloomberg News reporters — Ben Elgin, Alan Katz and Vernon Silver — won the international reporting award for articles about Western companies that sell surveillance technology and equipment to repressive governments for use against opposition figures. Their stories showed how telephone transcripts generated by German computers had led to the arrest and torture of a human rights activist in Bahrain.
“The Lost Chalice” is the fascinating story of how a band of grave robbers turned up two priceless ancient works of art — and how these ill-gotten masterpieces made their way to Sotheby’s, to private collections and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Silver shows how the illicit trade of stolen antiquities implicates the art world’s most prestigious institutions. He takes us alongside detectives and reporters who doggedly pursue elusive treasures across decades and continents, chasing leads to Switzerland, Beirut…and Malibu. Millions are made while laws — and irreplaceable artworks — are broken.
Link: WSJ on The Lost Chalice
Mr. Silver, chronicler of the criminals, curators, detectives and politicians who have chased after the bowl in recent decades, insists that their story too is now an essential part of the krater’s significance, and thus an important element in the way the museum should present it. “Objects accrue meanings over time,” he says. “People may go to jail today because of this 2,500-year-old pot. Reputations have been won and lost because of it. To label it as just a work of art would be a mistake.”
NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports: “The expert who helped nail down the exact spot where the pot was found is Vernon Silver, an American journalist with a degree in archaeology from Oxford. His new book, The Lost Chalice, traces the story of the looted vase’s travels from a tomb in Italy to Switzerland to New York and back to Italy through the labyrinthine world of smugglers and shady dealers in an illicit trade that fed a network of American collectors and institutions.”
Link: ProJo: The Lost Chalice
...a world of incredible secrecy, where art rises into view only to disappear for decades, where sales are anonymous, museum officials turn blind eyes, and where beauty is measured in dollars and euros.
“The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece,” just published by William Morrow, makes a first-class page turner out of the stolen krater’s travels from ancient Greece to Etruscan Italy to New York and then back here — and of the travails of another work also by the sublime Euphronios, a kylix, or chalice, which was looted from the same spot here in Cerveteri, a town northwest of Rome.
Vernon Silver, a 40-year-old American journalist and a doctoral student in archaeology at Oxford, wrote the book. “This is the whole illicit antiquities trade writ small,” he said a few days ago. “The two works started out in the hands of the same Greek artist, 2,500 years ago, ended up going through the same shady Italian dealer by different routes to America, one the public route, the other underground, and both end up back here in Italy.”
The tale is one neither Met officials nor Italian authorities will be pleased to find so conscientiously recounted.
Link: The Tomb Robbers
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.
“Setting up his tale as a mystery to be solved Silver takes a micro approach to a great big problem, that of looted antiquities in modern times... a welcome glimpse into the modern, secret journey of such ancient objects.”
“Vernon's sharply rendered account is engrossing. A densely packed, dizzyingly detailed tale of art and espionage.”
“In his brilliant The Lost Chalice Vernon Silver has gone far beyond merely slicing open the Gordion knot obscuring the world-famous ancient Greek chalices made by Euphronios, the Leonardo of the 6th century BC, he has patiently untied that knot in a spine-tingling read.”
Vernon Silver has written an utterly compelling, page-turner of a book. The Lost Chalice is a riveting story of tomb robbers and antiquities smugglers, high-stakes auctioneers and the princely chiefs of the world’s most prestigious museums—all vying to get their hands on an ancient masterpiece. It’s a terrific read, from start to finish.
Link: Publishers Weekly
“A captivating tale of ancient art as a modern hot commodity... Silver’s telling is infused with an infectious curiosity about the illicit art trade and an equally infectious appreciation of the art itself. ”