A kylix by Euphronios! It was an astonishing find.
The press conference was held by, other than police representatives, the Superintendent archeologist for Southern Etruria and a noted professor who was also the director of the British Museum in London’s Department of Archeology. They were presenting to the world a very unique piece signed by the extremely famous ceramist Euphronios and his apprentice Onosimos. Only one other piece signed by both painters existed in the world, and it was conserved at the Louvre. The two Finance Police immediately felt the general excitement upon entering the Campidoglio Room in Rome.
Everyone crowded around the heavily-secured showcase. It had a mirror on the inside that allowed the public to view the kylix’s marvelous external decorations. The kylix was in fragments, and it had been placed on a concave support that mimicked its shape. Marshal Sergio made his way over to better observe it. He noticed that one fragment was missing. Among the press conference’s participants, Lt. Giulio recognized Cornelio Costantini, a very skilled ceramist who created admirable copies of Etruscan artwork. He had entered the scene, like everyone else, excavating and robbing tombs. However, unlike everyone else, he was specialized in reproduction and ended his tomb-raiding career to become a full-time forger. He had committed much fraud in the past and now had a long list of pending cases.
Why was Costantini there?
At the time of its discovery, the trafficker handling the Euphronios failed to blend in at in airport and was stopped. The Art Recovery Team opened his suitcase, which had a double-bottom, and found the kylix of Euphronios. They knew about the smuggling of this marvelous piece thanks to an anonymous denouncement made by a “colleague”, perhaps out of jealousy.
ART began to investigate, and they were soon led to Costantini’s ceramics laboratory, where they hid a microphone. What’s more, they found a suspicious looking envelope. Inside was the missing fragment of the Euphronios.
Was the Euphronios a fake?
They checked the kylix’s certificate. It was from a Milanese firm that dated the piece to somewhere around the 6th and 5th centuries BC. This date was determined through thermo-luminescence exams. ART asked the University of Milan to perform more exams with the expressed request that they be made on other pieces of the artifact. This was to make sure that clay powders from 6th and 5th century artwork had not been placed into the analyzed fragment. Numerous fragments were analyzed and the results once again dated the Euphronios to somewhere around the 6th and 5th centuries BC.
ART intercepted phone calls: it seemed as though Cornelio claimed to have created the kylix.
The kylix was sent with other authentic Attic vases to a non-destructive analysis and archeometry laboratory where they were compared with one another. The analysis report that came back to ART was surprising: differences were found in the seemingly more-refined clay, which was used for the authentic vases, and in the writings on the cup, which appeared to be written by someone unfamiliar with writing in Greek letters. However, the kylix was actually proven to be a fake with the elemental analysis of its ceramic. This analysis showed low levels of nickel and chrome, different from the composition of the authentic Attic vases, which showed high levels. What’s more, traces of barium were also found in the ceramic material. This element was completely absent in the Attic vases.
Now ART knew that the Euphronios was a fake, but they still needed to understand the whole story. They didn’t publicize their discovery because they didn’t want the forgers to put up their guard. They wanted to comprehend their intentions. They followed the forgers using stakeouts and wiretaps.
Sergio listened to the communications coming from the microphone hidden in the ceramist’s workshop.
– Vincenzo, the time has come for me to retire, I can’t take any more risks, I’m already under house arrest.
– But I showed you, it has a certificate of authenticity! Those that we made are not enough, we need more. There’s a flourishing market outside Italy. And they are waiting for us.
– Too risky, and what about when that doctor starts demanding more money for irradiating the pieces? Without that treatment they can’t get certificates, it’s indispensable for aging the pieces. If that doctor starts to realize it, he’ll have complete control over us. He could ask for more. I’m an ex-gravedigger, I know all about people, I know all about greediness.
They began to follow Vincenzo, who took them all the way to a city in northern Italy. They took up a hidden position near the new location and waited. It was night. They saw him leave a lodge carrying a wooden box. Giulio and Sergio followed him to a hospital where he entered through the emergency room area. They blended in with the patients in the waiting room while he spoke with a doctor. When they saw that he had received the doctor’s authorization to enter a certain area, they showed their badges to a nurse at the entrance and also went in. They followed him from a distance in the empty hallways and saw him enter the radiology ward. They interrupted him and another man just as they were about to irradiate one of Cornelio’s vases. The room was full of X-ray equipment, and the two men had positioned the piece and gotten it ready, placing it at a safe distance from the emission of the rays. They had already set the timer; they only needed to press the “on” button. The two Finance Police barged in just then, putting an end to their activity.
The press conference that was organized to reveal that the Euphronios was a fake certainly did not have the same tone as the first. The Finance Police explained their discovery and told about how they had thwarted what was about to happen in the hospital. The artifacts, once “antiquified” and ready to challenge even the most influential scholarly opinions, would flow into Switzerland where they would be inserted into the flourishing market of international collectors in Monte Carlo, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and the United States. The entire operation allowed ART to recuperate another 650 works of archeological interest, sequester five kilns and nearly 200 artifacts that would have been used to make counterfeits. They also denounced 13 accomplices, four of which were put under precautionary measure.