May 13, 2007

Why the etruscan chariot should stay in the Met

Posted at 12:26 pm in Similar cases

More coverage of the Etruscan Chariot in the Met, that the Umbrian village of Monteleone Di Spoleto wants returned.

New Jersey Times

Chariot’s new home is where it should stay
Friday, May 11, 2007

I have been to Monteleone Di Spoleto, where Ottavio Vannozzi, a wonderful man, my cousin and the former mayor of Monteleone, held the keys to the church-turned-museum where a copy of the “Golden Chariot” sat among old newspaper articles taped to the walls and reel-to-reel tapes and dusty books about the chariot that stood in haphazardly placed bookcases.

As the story goes, around 1897, Isidoro Vannozzi, the discoverer of the Etruscan tomb, was either bamboozled by or he shrewdly dealt with a man from Norcia, another castle village several miles away in Umbria, Italy. He was building a house for his growing family when he dug a basement into the hill on the Vannozzi family farm. The hillside collapsed, exposing an Etruscan burial tomb. The family story says that he bartered, as they did back then, what he had for what he needed: in this case, the contents of the tomb, including the chariot, for tiles for his roof, as well as a cow or two and some sheep. What mattered at the time was that he was able to finish his house. The man from Norcia, either an antiques dealer or a professor from the language school, then sold the chariot to someone who moved it out of the country. I don’t think Isidoro would take kindly to Michael Rovello’s suggestion in his re cent Times of Trenton opinion article “Carry the chariot home” (April 28) that he was destitute or even unsophisticated.

The whole idea of archaeology and museums is to research pieces of antiquity and display them for scientists and the public to see and for us to learn from our past so that we won’t be doomed to repeat it.

Mr. Rovello says that the British Museum’s arguments for keeping antiquities from other lands are specious, meaning “having a false look of truth or genuineness,” and poisons the water by inferring, by proximity, that the Metropolitan Museum has done the same thing. Is Mr. Rovello conferring special dispensation on the Rome museums for artifacts that were plundered from before Christ was born to the 20th century? Or should they be forced to return the Egyptian and Greek pieces now in their possession? Is this museum or any other museum (by its very nature) in the world less guilty of what he accuses the Metropolitan Museum of being? Should we now redefine what a museum should be and penalize all that don’t conform?

If my information is correct, the hapless Mayor of Hamilton Township was recently maneuvered into a situation by the mayor of Monteleone that he should have seen coming. The Sister City program that Mayor Glen Gilmore was there to initiate had nothing to do with the 2,600-year-old antiquities of the chariot tomb. The history that ties Monteleone and Trenton together has to do with jobs and economics, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Roe bling plants, as many people from Monteleone settled in Hamilton to work in the industries available here.

An attorney from Atlanta, Tito Mazzetta, is suing to return the chariot. He seems to say that it should go back where the mayor of Monteleone wants it to go: Monteleone. Why are people itching to return this one item, the Etruscan chariot, out of all the pieces in the Metropolitan Museum, to the beautiful, quaint, small village that couldn’t possibly maintain it — cer tainly not to the degree to which a museum of the stature of the Metropolitan can and has done?

The Metropolitan has proven that it has the money and desire to take care of the “Golden Chariot” and has made it a priority. It has researched it and published books on it. It has invited foremost Etrus can specialists to research it and help restore it. It has built a magnificent display to showcase it and protect it. And, of course, we all suspect that if it were returned, the Etruscan chariot of Monteleone would not go to Monteleone. It would probably not even go to the museum in Perugia, the capital of the province of Umbria, which is where Etruia once was. It would most likely go to the big museum in Rome, about 100 miles to the south and west of Isidoro Vannoz zi’s homestead on Colle del Capitano (the Captain’s Hill). And, yes, it would be well cared for there.

But would it be cared for as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as Rovello presumes? I doubt it. Let’s assume that this piece of antiquity arrives in Italy. Once someone pays the considerable sum for its transport and care in transit and its reconstruction, the chariot would then have to take its place in line — the budget line that is — perhaps behind a piece by Michelangelo or prioritized before expenditures for a new roof on the old museum. Who knows? No one wants to see the chariot disinte grate due to lack of funds.

In contrast, the Metropolitan Museum has just built a $250 million wing for the chariot to sit in, under a beautifully constructed glass box next to other funerary pieces from the tomb on Captains Hill. The museum in New York City is proud of Isidoro’s chariot, and I am happy where the “biga” sits in the priority of things at the Met.

Tom Vannozzi, director of the www.TheVannozziFamilyMonteleo, is the great- great-grandson of Isidoro Vannozzi, who discovered the chariot on the Vannozzi family property in Monteleone.

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