For decades it was proudly displayed in the Greco-Roman galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a 2,300-year-old, vividly painted vase that depicts Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, riding in a cart pulled by a satyr.
Today it sits in an evidence room at the district attorney’s office in Manhattan after prosecutors quietly seized the antiquity last week based on evidence that it had been looted by tomb raiders in Italy in the 1970s.
Investigators issued a warrant to the Met on July 24 after reviewing photos and other evidence sent to them in May by a forensic archaeologist in Europe who has been tracking looted artifacts for more than a decade. The museum said that it hand-delivered the object to prosecutors the next day and anticipates that the vase, used in antiquity for mixing water and wine, will ultimately return to Italy.
“The museum has worked diligently to ensure a just resolution of this matter,” Kenneth Weine, a museum spokesman, said in a statement.
The case closely echoes the removal of another terra-cotta wine vessel, the Euphronios Krater, from the museum in 2008 after evidence surfaced that it had been illegally excavated from an ancient burial ground in Italy. Met officials said they believe, as do law enforcement officials, that both vessels went through the hands of Giacomo Medici, a 79-year-old Italian art dealer who was arrested in 1997 and convicted in 2004 of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities.
Mr. Medici, reached in Italy, denied any role in connection with the recently seized vase, which the Met bought at auction at Sotheby’s in 1989 for $90,000. An official for the auction house declined to identify the consignor, citing privacy concerns, but said Sotheby’s had no knowledge of any issues with its provenance when it handled the sale.
Experts date the vase, which is also known as a bell krater, to 360 B.C. and attribute it to the Greek artist Python, considered one of the two greatest vase painters of his day.