Attic Red-Figure Kylix, signed by Onesimos and Euphronios – Modern Imitation

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ATTIC RED-FIGURE KYLIX, SIGNED BY ONESIMOS AND EUPHRONIOS
MODERN IMITATION

Height 18 cm
Ø 52 cm
Recovered by the Guardia di Finanza in 2004

Among the ancient works of art recovered by the Italian Guardia di Finanza and displayed in the exhibition in Delaware is a noteworthy Attic red-figure kylix. This kylix, in fragments, was sequestered in 2004 along with a collection of scientific and administrative documents attesting its authenticity and lawful possession.

This kylix is a large ceramic drinking vessel with two handles. Its artistic details date it to the sixth century BC. It features the signatures of the illustrious pair of potters and vases painters of ancient Greece—Euphronios and Onesimos.

This work of art, of extraordinary and inestimable cultural value, would have joined the small group of extremely rare examples that have survived up until today. It challenged the academic establishment of the world, which was ready to rewrite the history of the Attic vessel repertoire after its discovery.

At the time of its recovery, the cup was exceptional for its dimensions and state of preservation. It was decorated with rich imagery depicting Epic tradition. However, it displayed noticeable stylistic flaws, and the organoleptic characteristics of the material displayed abnormalities. Therefore, the investigators decided to put the cup under a series of scientific analyses that included a thermo-luminescent exam. These confirmed over and over again that the cup dated from the sixth century BC.

However, a series of more in-depth laboratory investigations conducted on the chemical composition of the clay mixture showed substantial disparities with the clay of ancient Greek vases. These investigations also demonstrated the clay mixture’s similarities with organic components of artifacts produced in Italy, both antique and modern. The kylix of Euphronios quickly became a case that stirred the entire scientific community.

The Guardia di Finanza, after consulting the Italian Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali and the Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici del Lazio, brought their case to the Department of Energetic Physics at the Sapienza University of Rome. The artifact was put under a series of non-invasive analyses, which resulted in the definite conclusion that it was a forgery.

In the meantime, the intense intelligence activity originating from the exchange of information permitted the members of the Art Recovery Team to quickly solve the mystery. They uncovered a criminal organization that operated in Cerveteri, Tuscania and Brescia. The criminal organization had thought up a way to create infallible – or nearly infallible – forgeries: the vases were being produced from the pottery wheel of a talented artisan in a small coastal city in Lazio. He specialized in the reproduction of antiques that came from Greece and Etruria. Once these pieces were extracted from the kiln, a sanitary operator “irradiated” them using oncology equipment from the radiotherapy department of a hospital in Brescia.

The artifacts, thus “antiquified”, were able to deceive even the authoritative opinion of Dyfri Williams, Director of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the British Museum of London and expert of international fame. The artifacts went through a series of transactions that converged in Switzerland, in the Cantons of Lucerna and Ticino, where they were “taken care of” by two brash antiquarians. These antiquarians operated in Monte Carlo, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and the United States. The objects were then inserted into the thriving international collectors market along with other authentic works that came from the plundering of archaic tombs.

The entire operation allowed the Guardia di Finanza to recover another 650 works of archeological interest and sequester 177 artifacts destined to be forged and five kilns. It also permitted the Guardia di Finanza to denounce thirteen responsible persons, of whom four were penalized.

Massimo Rossi

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