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Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage

By James Cuno

(Princeton University Press, 228 pp., $24.95)

This spring the state apartments of Italy's presidential palace, the Palazzo del Quirinale, hosted a remarkable exhibit of ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan artifacts, all of them found on Italian soil but held until recently in private collections and museums in the United States, notably the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The exhibit marked a diplomatic coup for Francesco Rutelli, the former mayor of Rome who until last April had served the left-wing government of Romano Prodi for two years as minister of culture. Through an arrangement of long-term loans and the deft application of diplomatic pressure, Rutelli had convinced museum directors that returning these artifacts, all of them acquired from dealers whose methods were not entirely scrupulous, would help to discourage the knowingly illegal looting of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan sites in Italy.

The exhibition was also a triumph of Italian taste. The seventeenth-century and nineteenth-century frescoes that decorate the vast halls of the Palazzo del Quirinale echoed the classical grace and many of the mythological themes of the ancient objects; the palazzo's Ming vases provided a point of cross-cultural comparison, and the crowds who gathered to see the show, mostly Italian, were, as we have come to expect, impeccably coiffed and dressed. To judge from their conversations, most of them were also impeccably knowledgeable. Both the crowds and the occasion provided an evocative portrait of contemporary Italy--a country with cultural traditions that reach back millennia, but also a country that has transformed itself since World War II from a recipient of UNICEF funds into one of the eight most formidable economic powers on the planet, not least because of that Italian reputation for style. (The show has since moved to a comparably dramatic location in the Palazzo Poli, whose main facade is the Trevi Fountain.)

Another exhibition providing an apposite portrait of today's Italy went up in July, with the enigmatic title "The Wolf and the Sphinx." It traces the ways in which Rome has been inspired over the millennia by ancient Egypt. Displayed within the Castel Sant'Angelo, which is the former mausoleum of Hadrian, that most Egyptophile of emperors, the show was mounted in part of the suite decorated in the 1540s for Pope Paul III Farnese, another figure fascinated by ancient Egypt and the onetime owner of an ancient bronze tabletop with scenes from the cult of Isis. Within this huge ancient Roman structure, beneath its Renaissance frescoes, that tabletop, along with Renaissance books and manuscripts, echoed the same themes as ancient statues, Egyptian and Roman (as well as their medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque imitations). Modern Egyptian musicians played in front of Raffaele da Montelupo's fifteenth-century marble image of the archangel Michael, and the whole assemblage showed the imprint, wacky and erudite, of its supremely imaginative curator, Eugenio Lo Sardo.

"The Wolf and the Sphinx" provides a particularly complex example of what it can mean to display artifacts (and works of art) in context. It matters that both these exhibits took place not just in Rome, but in the Palazzo del Quirinale and in the Castel Sant'Angelo, with all the history and symbolism inherent in those buildings. And both of these exhibitions stand, in their dignified glory of setting, content, and audience, as stiff challenges to the picture of museums, nations, and archaeological material that James Cuno presents in his new book.

 As director of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cuno faces, more directly than most people, the complex problems posed by what is now an immense global market in antiquities from every part of the world. His position of responsibility certainly raises the expectation that his analysis of this tangled issue would be reasoned, thoughtful, and historically as well as politically informed; but his book begins with a series of scenarios more fit for a polemicist's pamphlet than a guide for the perplexed. Noting that modern laws about the import and export of antiquities did not exist when Napoleonic troops discovered the Rosetta Stone, Cuno suggests that under modern conditions British soldiers might not have been able to snatch the stone from the French invaders and spirit it away to the British Museum, with the result that Jean-François Champillon might not have been able to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphic script. The point of this exercise, and several other scenarios spun in a similarly speculative vein, is to demonstrate a larger point, which is that antiquities laws as currently drawn impoverish rather than enrich the global level of culture.

"The emotional, 'national cultural identity' card played by some proponents of nationalist retentionist cultural property laws is really a strategic, political card," Cuno writes. "National museums are important instruments in the formation of nationalist narratives; they are used to tell the story of a nation's past and confirm its present importance. That may be true of national museums, but it is not true of encyclopedic museums, those whose collections comprise representative examples of the world's artistic legacy." In other words, the present attempts by nations such as Egypt, Italy, Greece, Mexico, and Cambodia to hold on to their archaeological legacy prevents the acquisition of archaeological artifacts by "great encyclopedic museums," and this is bad for two reasons: the looting will continue anyway, and the museumgoing public will be denied the sight of inspirational works of art. "Retentionist nationalism" is the dragon that Cuno would slay in this book, rather than the greedy trade in antiquities that has inspired such retentionist legislation in the first place; and the St. George who rides into the fray is the group of museums--including his own, the British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art--that attempts to present a cross-section of world culture to their public.

Cuno's prime example of an encyclopedic museum is an institution whose name, the British Museum, suggests no small connection with the idea of nationhood, and certainly its possession of the Rosetta Stone snatched out from under the Corsican nose of "Boney" Bonaparte was the cause in 1802 and ever afterwards of considerable nationalist glee. (So was the purchase of the Elgin Marbles from the Ottoman governors of early nineteenth-century Athens.) The British Museum was undoubtedly a product of Enlightenment idealism, as Cuno repeatedly notes, but that idealism more than coincidentally assumed that being British was the best of all possible human conditions, just as Boney, across the Channel, assumed that true Enlightenment could speak only French, and was willing to pillage the Vatican Museums to prove his point. The great encyclopedic museums were predicated, perhaps to a one, on the idea that their local public constituted the world's best people, and hence the most deserving to stand in the presence of high culture, with a smattering of primitives to drive that sense of superiority home.

This was the cultural version of a political process acknowledged already in the Middle Ages and known as translatio imperii, or "shifting the right to rule"--not an entirely Enlightened stance. And this tradition lasted long. A century after the Enlightenment, the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago imperiously took it for granted that those cities belonged to a United States of America that stood as beacon to the world--the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is either naive or tendentious to argue that those institutions were founded instead to serve some great multicultural vision of human fraternity.

Indeed, a certain basic confusion of arguments nags Cuno's book from beginning to end. However earnest its purpose, Who Owns Antiquity? plays so fast and loose with history and logic in its opening chapters that it cannot possibly gather together its dissipated forces to deliver the intended final punch, which is a plea for those great encyclopedic museums to act as peacemakers in today's fragmented, polarized, conflict-ridden world. Peacemaking is a novel role for institutions that were founded--like the picture gallery in Pericles's Acropolis, the hall of statues in the Forum of Augustus, and the statue gallery of Pope Julius II--to serve as the monumental trophy cases of great powers; and a great power's version of peace, as Tacitus memorably noted, could look like a desert from another point of view.

Cuno takes special pains to disparage the very country that would otherwise serve as one of his most promising allies in implementing the vision of a new humanitarian mission for large museums: Italy. His opening chapters aim a few choice blows at Italian antiquities laws for their "nationalist retentionist" folly, and a long footnote takes special care to blast former minister of culture Rutelli for "political antics." (If so, what word could possibly remain in the English vocabulary to describe the antics of Silvio Berlusconi?) Yet when the book moves on to specific examples of nationalism and its perils, it concentrates on the history of Ottoman and then modern Turkey, twentieth-and twenty-first-century Iraq, and the People's Republic of China, nearly bypassing Italy altogether. Each of the countries that Cuno considers at length has certainly posed its own particular dangers for its archaeological record in our time, but for drastically different reasons; and they are all still struggling out of the third world into the first. But not so Italy. It is both a "source country," a producer of antiquities, and, owing to its wealth and millennial culture, a prime consumer. No wonder the Chinese archaeologists who designed the museum for the Neolithic site of Banpo Village in the 1950s looked to Italy for their model, and found it in Giacomo Boni's early twentieth-century displays of prehistoric material in the Roman Forum. In many respects, Italy is where China would like to be. Turkey and Egypt would like to be there, too.

Nor will it do to hit at Italian laws and then dodge a forthright look at Italy's relationship not only with antiquity, but indeed with the very discipline of archaeology. Italy, after all, is rare among nations because it is both a prime producer and a prime consumer of archaeological artifacts. Because of this peculiar status, Italy has posed the most specific and sophisticated challenge to the directors of American museums who are now facing the consequences of their erstwhile rapacious acquisition policies. Like any venerable museum in the United States, the Art Institute of Chicago has its own complement of archaeological treasures removed from Italian soil over the decades with a lack of concern for context that this powerful, educated, wealthy land now has the wit and the clout to classify as no longer acceptable. But Italians are also superb negotiators, particularly skilled at finding solutions that preserve face on all sides. What purpose is served then by taking a swipe at Rutelli at the precise moment when the directors of the Met, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Getty Museum, and the Princeton Museum have all signed long-term agreements of international cooperation, through Rutelli's direct mediation, with the Italian government? Does dissent truly serve the best interests of the Art Institute of Chicago, let alone archaeology, the public, the cultural awareness of collectors, the general state of knowledge about our collective past, and diplomatic etiquette?

Italy has a long acquaintance with the traffic in antiquities, in all its ramifications. The Roman siege of Corinth by Lucius Mummius in 146 B.C.E. ended, as such campaigns often do, in widespread looting, including the looting of ancient Corinthian graves for their jewelry and ceremonial vessels. A radically different idea of cultural property dominates a legal case that was argued in Rome, Rutelli's native city, in 70 B.C.E. by a rising young lawyer named Marcus Tullius Cicero. Early in his career, Cicero made the risky choice to prosecute the corrupt and greedy Gaius Verres for misconduct as governor of Sicily. (The trial is also the subject of Robert Harris's recent novel Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome.) Despite Verres's powerful social connections and bullying ways, Cicero won, because he knew exactly where he wanted to go with his case, and went there with hardheaded clarity of purpose. Imperial power and imperial amounts of money, he would convincingly claim, do not justify disrupting the integrity of a culture. "You will say, 'I bought it,'" he scoffed to Verres. "So what? It is simply arrogant to say 'Sell me those vases'--that is to say, 'You're not worthy to have something so well made. Those fit better with my own rank.' Is it so intolerable, Verres, for someone else to have something you like?"

Italy poses other problems for Cuno's line of argument as well. He insists, in another of his bids against nationalism, that there is no connection between the present populations of Turkey and China and the creators of those territories' archaeological remains: a Turk is not a Hittite, any more than Han Chinese are responsible for the marvels to be found along the Central Asian stretches of the Silk Road. Consequently, he argues, there is no reason that the national governments of these places should regard the archaeological heritage as one of national rather than general human interest--and hence, by extension, the ancient objects that these territories contain might as well be at Harvard or Berlin rather than Dunhuang and Turpan.

Cuno provides a fascinating account of his own trip to the Mogao caves in the remote deserts of Xinjiang Province, which were first brought to the West's attention by the Hungarian-born explorer Marc Aurel Stein in 1907, when he traveled there on behalf of the British Museum. Stein was followed the subsequent year by the French scholar Paul Pelliot, and in 1924 by Langdon Warner of Harvard. (All of these expeditions feature in Peter Hopkirk's riveting book Foreign Devils on the Silk Road.) Stein, Pelliot, and Warner did an incalculably important job of retrieving and studying ancient material from the Silk Road at a time when Xinjiang was torn by war and oppressed by poverty. The objects that they took from Xinjiang might well have been ruined beyond usefulness had they been left in place, and the world would be the poorer for it. Cuno's picture of the ravages that China has undergone (and that its governments have inflicted) as the result of its early twentieth-century upheavals, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and cutthroat capitalism cover familiar territory, and it is a tragic and devastating picture, for the most part. The world now knows about the Chinese government's attempts to eliminate the Muslim Uighurs as well as its decades-long oppression of Tibetan Buddhists; their struggles stand before us. Cuno's real point in discussing the case of China must surely be that the arts, past and present, are a force that work to unite and uplift humanity as a whole--but it sounds at times as if he is urging the world's museums to save China from the Chinese. To which the Chinese might object that World War II and the Iraq war committed heinous crimes against archaeology, and ask the pot what it means to imply about the color of the kettle.

It is impossible, moreover, to insist on an analogous gap between the Italian peninsula's archaeological heritage and the biological heritage of its present-day inhabitants. DNA tests have shown that modern Tuscans are indeed related to the Etruscans found in local tombs, and one family in Volterra, the Cecina, boasted both a close friend of Cicero and an eighteenth-century antiquarian. The cultural connections are, quite simply, unbroken. By the fifteenth century the artists, the writers, the statesmen, and the natural philosophers of the Italian Renaissance had developed an acute awareness of their distinctively Etruscan and Roman pasts, and expressed it in such a way that this cultural, artistic, and philosophical legacy still stands as a basic component of modern Italian--not to mention Western--culture. In connection with that same Renaissance, Italy is also the place where, in the fifteenth century, archaeology as we know it was invented, along with the first public art museum, which was opened on the Capitoline Hill in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV.

Cuno's desire to make an Enlightened argument invites an Enlightenment response: as Dr. Johnson said, kicking a stone, "I refute it thus." It is a different thing to see the ancient statue called the Spinario right there in Rome where Pope Sixtus put it in 1471, where many of the great artists of the Renaissance drew it, where Winckelmann and Goethe saw it, than it is to see an ancient bronze in the Met. It is one thing to stand in the theatre of Ephesus, right there where the riot broke out among the silversmiths who made votive trinkets for the Temple of Artemis, who feared the impact that a wandering preacher named Paul of Tarsus might have on their business--and it is quite another matter to see a column from that temple in the British Museum. The Elgin Marbles have been spared the foul air of modern Athens, but they were not spared a good British scrub down with soap and water when they arrived in the early nineteenth century, and neither fate has been kind to the polished surface of the Parthenon's sculpture.

Many antiquities are more mobile than the Temple of Artemis or pieces of the Parthenon, and were meant to be moved. These mobile antiquities, precisely because of their mobility, illustrate the real damage caused by indiscriminate collecting. The Etruscans, for example, were eager but choosy importers of Athenian ceramics. Like the artisans of Ming and Qing China, Athenian potters produced vessels on order for Etruscan clients, which means that these apparently Greek vases in fact belong to two cultures. (Josiah Wedgwood and his eighteenth-century contemporaries thought that the Greek vases coming out of the ground in Naples, Pompeii, and Vulci were Etruscan, and in a real sense Wedgwood was right.) The Euphronios krater that Thomas Hoving purchased under shady conditions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1972 was more than a triumph of Greek art (callously smashed to facilitate transport out of Italy); it was also an equally important document of Etruscan taste. It is now on display in Rome together with a stunning series of similar kraters, similarly ripped from Etruscan tombs for the benefit of Grecophile collectors in the United States. A surprising number of the vases that classicists use to reconstruct ancient Athenian life were actually found in Etruria and are hence bicultural rather than purely Athenian; they are complex rather than simple windows onto the past.

Many Greek vases found in Italy, such as the monumental Athenian krater known as the Francois Vase (now displayed at the Archaeological Museum in Florence), bear mythological images that may well have had their own peculiarly Etruscan significance as well as their significance to the Athenian potter Ergotimos and the painter Kleitias. We know for certain where the Francois Vase was found, and this helps us to speculate more intelligently about the meaning of its dizzying wealth of imagery and its 127 written inscriptions. In the case of the Euphronios krater we can supposedly only guess--although it is in fact perfectly well known that it came from an Etruscan tomb in Cerveteri and that is was shattered by the tombaroli, the professional tomb robbers who dug it out illegally. Yet to treat this vase as a masterpiece of Greek art is rather like pretending that Picasso was a Spanish artist who never saw Paris.

Cuno expends considerable effort in showing how several artifacts from the Art Institute are similarly multicultural--a medieval monstrance that encloses an Islamic Egyptian perfume bottle, a Swahili-Sicilian box--but he stays carefully away from this particular and rather urgent example of archaeological multiculturalism. Greek vases of Etruscan provenance abound in the Art Institute's collection, every one of them a woefully missed opportunity to learn more about two areas of the ancient world. What was it that Cicero said? "It is simply arrogant to say, 'Sell me those vases'--that is to say, 'You're not worthy to have something so well made. Those fit better with my own rank.'"

In this context, indeed, it is difficult not to notice Cuno's lavish praise in a footnote for the American collector Shelby White, who has owned many Greek vases that were removed from Etruscan tombs by the same summary methods that removed the Euphronios krater from its Etruscan home. Rutelli has convinced her to give back some of her Grecian bounty, too, which would seem to suggest all the more reason to praise them both. But Cuno presumably regards White not as a participant in a pioneering set of international agreements, but rather as an important donor, along with her late husband Leon Levy, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In such a context, "Our Ancient Heritage," from the book's subtitle, can be read as a brief for outright possession--that we own antiquity as much as the Italians, Greeks, Chinese, and Iraqis do, and therefore we have an equal right to their archaeological wealth--rather than as some abstract idea of respect for a shared human cultural tradition.

 Hence this earnest plea for great encyclopedic museums also reveals a certain more mundane set of interests. As Cicero said, Cui bono? For whose benefit? Who is this book's real audience? It can be no coincidence that several words never appear in Cuno's book. They are fundamental to a proper understanding of the present-day antiquities market. I have in mind words such as "greed," "hubris," and "organized crime." For that matter, the word "money" barely appears, despite the fact that great encyclopedic museums require and dispense huge mountains of lucre. We really do know--this is not just a suspicion or a conjecture--that if a Pompeiian painting appears on the art market today, it has almost certainly been cut out of a wall with the criminal help of the Camorra, the Neapolitan version of the Mafia that was recently laid bare by Roberto Saviano's Gomorra, and that the channels that pass along the loot from Etruscan and Apulian tombs, as well as the artifacts in Mexico and China, go underground, not above. This is why the Italian carabinieri, the national police force that is a branch of the military, established its Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale--usually known in English as the "Art Squad." Trained in every aspect of art restoration as well as forensics, this group has been phenomenally successful in recovering stolen paintings, manuscripts, and illegally excavated or stolen antiquities--and in raising public consciousness of the tight link between art theft and organized crime.

In the nineteenth century, Lucien Bonaparte permitted the wholesale ransacking by interested buyers of the ancient Etruscan city of Vulci--then his feudal property. The city of Chiusi, long fallen from its peak of splendor in the fifth century B.C.E., offered to sell interested customers in the 1880s an Etruscan sarcophagus, either fresh from a tomb or touched up to order. As a result, the museums of several continents may be the richer. But surely this is not a sufficient excuse to perpetuate feudalism and poverty, nor was it in 1870 or in 1946. The Italian nationalism that tried to end feudalism and poverty was as much a product of the Enlightenment as the British Museum.

In fact, Italy and its laws on cultural property illustrate, with rare precision, that nationalism is not such a simple phenomenon. Over the ages, nationalism seems to have been, and to be still, one of the mechanisms by which an agrarian society transforms itself into a more urban society, with consequences that include a healthier, wealthier, and more literate population. Italians once served foreign archaeologists as workmen, cooks, maids, and washerwomen because they lacked an education, but this is no longer the case. Italian scholars, including archaeologists, are as erudite and competent as any in the world. It is the foreigners who have the disadvantage now. The reasons for that disadvantage are political, to be sure, but more emphatically they are practical: how can an American professor who comes to Italy only in the summer claim superior knowledge to someone who has lived and studied in the same place for a lifetime of changing seasons?

It is also worth noting that the idea of Italy as a latecomer among nations because it unified in 1870 is a bit of a canard. Here are two anecdotal refutations, from around 1500. A manuscript from 1493 in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich contains a series of scurrilous Latin poems aimed at "Itali" who have accused these German writers--whom the Itali actually called "barbarians"--of drunkenness; and the Germans retaliate by accusing the Italians of pederasty. Thirty years later, it was Erasmus of Rotterdam whose Adages proclaimed that a bald man from Mykonos was as hard to find as a brave Italian--an italus bellicosus. The word barbarus in Renaissance Italy meant a person who spoke with a German accent.

And as Italy went after World War II, so the rest of the world hopes to go. A growing number of modern Egyptians are no longer illiterate fellahin. The new Library of Alexandria stands across the street from the University of Alexandria, with its 140,000 students; its alumni include the Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, now at Caltech and one of the most imaginative chemists working today. Zahi Hawass may be a baron in his position as head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, but he serves notice to the barons who dwell in the world's encyclopedic museums that they must now take the bright, eager young people of Egypt into account. As for China, Cuno gives a relatively detailed analysis of the way in which that huge nation has been grappling, on a colossal scale, with some of the problems that Italy faced in the twentieth century: a deep, complex cultural tradition; the dual status as archaeological "source country" and increasingly wealthy consumer country; the legacies of a totalitarian regime. China is also acutely sensitive to what it sees as persistent international disdain. Its environment, its past, its myriad traditions, its widely diverse archaeological heritage--all have come under devastating pressure in an aggressive bid to modernize in terms recognized as modern by the rest of the planet. It is not clear that this is simply a problem of nationalism; it is also a problem of international ideas about what is old, what is new, what is enlightened, what is barbarous. In the name of internationally recognized ideas of progress--many going back, alas, to the Enlightenment--the Three Gorges Dam, like the Aswan High Dam before it, threatens general environmental disaster, of which archaeological disaster is, like human disaster, only a subset.

Nationalism or internationalism aside, the fact remains that the people who inhabit a region will inevitably continue to bear the largest responsibility for the preservation of that region's archaeological legacy, whether or not the creators of that heritage belong to the same culture or ethnic group as the present-day inhabitants of the land, and whether or not the substance of that heritage is the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, the mud architecture of Timbuktu or Sana'a, the Acropolis in Athens, Topkapi Palace, or Angkor Wat. The Temple of Huitzilopochtli will continue to lord it over the Zocalo of Mexico City, and the Valley of the Kings will rest by the Nile. The task of preserving them will fall most of all to locals, whatever one may think of their governmental systems or the suitability to human coexistence of the nation-state.

It is this inveterate and universal link to geography and geopolitics that defeats Cuno's proposed solution to what ails the antiquities market. His solution is to rehabilitate the nineteenth-century scheme of partage, in which a museum sponsors excavations in exchange for rights to possession of some of the excavation's findings. But such a plan can no longer work in the nineteenth-century way, when museums were unabashed instruments of imperialism, and ownership stood as proof of dominion. Imperium is no excuse. Cicero saw this long ago, on the eve of the Roman Empire, when he spoke out against the greed of Gaius Verres. The only plausible arrangement for museums today is to work as a peer among peers in schemes of international cooperation, already increasingly the norm for archaeological expeditions. The day is long gone when English, German, and American scholars could move in to tell the locals what was what and take their findings back to their encyclopedic museums to enlighten those who are deemed most capable of enlightenment. And what, pray tell, is so awful and limiting about a national museum like the Prado, or Castel Sant'Angelo, or the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, or the Cairo Museum?

Another solution to the problem of illicit excavation lies in the form of long-term loans of archaeological material from "source" countries to the countries that want to collect and to display it. Cuno complains about the short terms of loans granted by the Italian government, while noting that the law was recently changed to lengthen those terms. As minister of culture in the last Italian government, Rutelli was negotiating still longer terms for the loan of specific objects in his dealings with the Met and Boston--that is, quietly finding a solution to some of the very problems that Cuno is expatiating upon. He is not alone in that pursuit.

Cuno has scant patience for the single worldwide body that addresses cultural concerns, which is UNESCO. In his view, it is too much of an arena for nationalist grandstanding. But attacking the United Nations is like attacking democracy or the nation-state; these earthly things are all terribly flawed, but they are still some of the best tools we have to drive back some of the darkness. Museums themselves are not inexorably destined to be instruments of innocent benevolence; they can dish out blockbuster bread and circuses with all the imperious relish of Commodus unleashing a troop of gladiators on the Colosseum, or they can just shut their doors and say "too bad." They can squander their riches through neglect with the possessive abandon of a Haida chieftain at a potlatch.

Both the Met and the Getty have gone through periods of dreadful and destructive arrogance in the past thirty years--the rivals, in their sheer superciliousness, of any British imperialist or ancient Roman proconsul. James Cuno is clearly of a different breed, and that is a change of tremendous, and positive, importance to the place of museums in the twenty-first century. Would then that his brief for a more truly global mission for himself and his colleagues were argued with the punch and eloquence of Cicero, who was not afraid to face the real problems posed by the antiquities market--by the hubris, greed, and lust for possession that beautiful things have always exerted on our own breed of gregarious primate. Only by facing down those problems squarely, with relentless logic, was Cicero able to persuade the Roman Senate--and us, two millennia later--that, precisely because of our appetite for beauty, we are capable of, and bound to exercise, our nobility too.

Ingrid D. Rowland's new book, Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic, has just been published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

 

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By Ingrid D. Rowland

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