Trust in North American public museums has taken a major knock over the last few years: well over 100 objects have been returned to Italy, and a museum curator is currently standing trial.
What has been the issue? Museums have been seeking to develop their classical Greek and Roman collections - but had not been asking too many questions about how the stunning objects had been appearing on the antiquities market.
What were the sources for these acquisitions? Italy had not been releasing items found in excavations as these were retained in regional museums. So were they from previously unrecorded private collections?
In the mid 1990s a raid in the Geneva Freeport brought to light a major dossier of images and documentation that provided an insight on how objects moved from ancient burials in Italy through Switzerland and onwards to collections in Europe, the Far East and North America. This photographic evidence brought about a major shift: museums were only too keen to negotiate some returns.
Now Italy has responded positively to the co-operation. Antiquities are being placed on loan to North American collections: among them the symbolic statue of Eirene (Peace) to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. These are loans, not purchases. And some North American museum directors still try to address yesterday's debate about ownership - and they miss the point.
The shared aim of archaeologists and museum curators is to present and explain the past through finds, many of which are displayed in museums and galleries around the world. And objects excavated by scientific methods can be understood in far greater detail than something ripped from an ancient burial that loses all its associated information.
So as the Euphronios krater goes on display at the Villa Giulia in Rome, surrounded by finds made in the great ancient cemeteries of Etruria, the debate can turn to how our shared cosmopolitan heritage can be protected and preserved for future generations. Can we be good stewards of the past?
Detail from the Euphronios krater once displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and now in Rome. Sleep and Death lift the body of Sarpedon from the field of battle before Troy.
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