Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Book Review: "The Medici Conspiracy"

Journalists Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini offer up a timely and riveting account of the vast conspiracy to procure and trade in looted antiquities in their just-released book The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums. This book reads at times like a thriller novel, describing the descent of Italy's Art Squad on apartments and Swiss warehouses in search of looted goods. While it also, at times, reads like a trial transcript (the duo quote them at some length), its plodding moments are well offset by its periods of action.

I have often said that Miles Harvey's book The Island of Lost Maps should be required reading for anyone who works with rare books/maps/etc. Watson and Todeschini's work should be the same for anyone in the museum field, particularly if one happens to deal with antiquities. This is the sordid tale of a great web that encompasses tomb raiders, unscrupulous dealers and middle-men, the great auction houses of England and America, and some of the most important museums in the world.

Watson and Todeschini find it difficult at times to disguise their disgust for the subjects of their work, particularly those (i.e. curators at the Getty, the Met, etc.) who ought to know better. Some might criticize these expressions of contempt; I won't do so - if anything, they're too muted. (I should say here that my views on the looting or theft of antiquities and other cultural artifacts are rather draconian - Hammurabi's Code somehow seems appropriate for those who engage in such activities).

The story that this book tells is still ongoing, with several of the subjects (including former Getty curator Marion True) still on trial and other cases on appeal. Nonetheless, I have no reservations about recommending it to anyone whose interests run to art, antiquities, or true crime.


At 3:34 AM, Blogger pacatrue said...

Thanks for the rec. From this description, you might like Peter Hopkirk's Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. It's about Western archaeologists, adventurers, and thieves researching, preserving, and stealing some of China's greatest antiquities in the first half of the 20th century from the Western half of the nation. It reads almost like an adventure novel itself, complete with seemingly impossible treks across deserts, escapes from bandits and pseudo-governmental warlords, etc. I loved it.


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