January 11, 2008. Inside Art. Ciao to a Met Prize Returning to Italy. By CAROL VOGEL The Met bought the krater in 1972 for $1 million from Robert Hecht, an antiquities dealer who is now on trial in Rome on charges of conspiring to traffic in looted artifacts. (Mr. Hecht denies the charges.)
Under the terms of the pact, the Met is returning 21 objects that Italy said were looted, and the Italian government is lending the Met a series of rare ceramic antiquities. The first arrived in late 2006, and three more are to be installed by Wednesday in the Met’s Greek and Roman galleries.
Two of the newly lent pieces have direct connections to the krater, which was painted by the Greek artisan Euphronios. A 26-inch-wide terra-cotta cup depicting an assembly of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus is signed by Euxitheos, a potter who also signed the Euphronios krater. A jug shaped like a woman’s head was made by the potter Charinos, who is believed to have worked in Euphronios’ workshop.
The third piece of ceramic art going on display next week, a krater made in southern Italy during the fourth century B.C., is decorated with a spoof of one of the most serious episodes in Greek drama: Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx.
The departing krater is to go on view later this month at the Quirinale, the presidential palace in Rome, where a show of other objects repatriated from foreign museums opened last month.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Philippe de Montebello, the Met’s director, praised the quality of the loan to the Met. “At the time during which the negotiations were under way, I brought a list prepared by the curators of the kinds of things we considered equivalents,” he said. “We expected one object, but got three very beautiful objects. It shows on what a firm footing our future collaborations with Italy will be.”
Mr. Montebello, who on Tuesday announced his retirement later this year, was asked whether he felt particularly emotional about the krater’s departure.
Speaking from a cellphone, he said, “I can’t hear you anymore” — a response he has occasionally deployed by land line to questions he would rather not answer.A RARE PRAYER BOOKThe only known copy of the first Book of Hours printed in France, a tiny volume nearly 5 inches tall and 3 inches wide, has been acquired by the Morgan Library & Museum. Designed to fit into the palm of a woman’s hand, the book of prayers and devotional readings is illustrated by more than 40 woodcuts depicting religious figures and the life of Jesus.
“They are less sophisticated illustrations than later examples of Books of Hours,” John Bidwell, the Morgan’s curator of printed books and bindings, said.
At the Morgan it joins one of America’s most notable collections of such prayer books: 240 manuscripts and about 130 printed versions of the Book of Hours. The title reflects the organization of the devotional readings, chosen for different times of day.
This volume is the first known book to have been produced by the French publisher Antoine Vérard, and it helped establish Paris as a leading publishing center.
“The French eventually made these medieval best sellers,” Mr. Bidwell said.
The Morgan paid $471,304 for the Book of Hours in November at Sotheby’s in London, where a German library was auctioning it. A grant from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation, established after the death of the New York antiquarian bookseller Bernard H. Breslauer in 2004, covered the cost.
Mr. Breslauer once owned this very volume, having discovered it at a Christie’s auction in 1966. “Breslauer was the first to recognize its importance,” Mr. Bidwell said. “At the time there had been no scholarship whatsoever on this Book of Hours.”
Scholars realized it was from 1485, about five decades after Gutenberg invented movable type. But it was Mr. Breslauer who, by sorting through bibliographies, determined that it was the first Book of Hours printed in France.
“Every few months the Morgan rotates its holdings of rare books and manuscripts,” Mr. Bidwell said, “and this one will be on display in April for about three months.”
EXTRA ART AT THE ARMORY
When the Art Dealers Association of America sets up its annual Art Show in February, there will be more to see at the Park Avenue Armory than the paintings, drawings and sculptures being sold by the organization’s members.
Three site-specific projects by emerging artists are planned for the historic first-floor rooms of the landmark building, on Park Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets.
The contemporary projects fit in with the armory’s effort to attract a new and younger audience, and they will be on view to the public at no charge. (It costs $20 to enter the Art Show, which runs from Feb. 21 to 25 and benefits the Henry Street Settlement.)
“We thought it would be nice to enhance the initiatives at the armory and broaden the perspective of the Art Show,” said Roland Augustine, a Chelsea dealer who is president of the Art Dealers Association of America.
Mr. Augustine is also a trustee of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., where Tom Eccles, the armory’s artistic adviser, is director of the Center for Curatorial Studies. The three artists chosen for the armory project all have Bard affiliations..
Spencer Finch, an artist who explores relationships between light and color, is collaborating on an installation with Trevor Smith, the center’s curator in residence. Lisi Raskin, an artist in residence at Bard, plans to create a militarylike installation, centered on the idea of surveillance. Pietro Roccasalva, an Italian artist from Milan, is collaborating with a Bard student to present a performance-based piece.
Art students in Bard’s graduate program will contribute as well, creating a video installation for the armory’s first-floor hallways.
RECRUITING AUCTION STARS
Spring may seem far away, but the clock is ticking fast for the New York auction-house experts assembling the May auctions of important fine art.
Christie’s has secured a small collection of Abstract Expressionist works for its May 13 sale. The top work is a Mark Rothko painting from 1952 with rich reds and yellows, titled “No. 15” and estimated at around $50 million.
“This is exactly what the market is desperate for,” said Brett Gorvy of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art department worldwide. Describing what is most desirable in a Rothko, Mr. Gorvy said, “It’s the best year and perfect scale: 90 inches by 77 inches.”
Dealers and collectors who follow the Rothko market will recognize the image. Sotheby’s sold it in November 1999 to an unidentified telephone bidder for $11 million, then a record price. Christie’s will not name its current seller, but experts say it is Roger Evans, a San Francisco collector.
Mr. Evans, a loyal Christie’s client, has sold other works at auction recently, including Andy Warhol’s “Orange Marilyn,” which he parted with in November 2006 for $16.2 million. And Christie’s is offering two other works from Mr. Evans’s collection in May: Sam Francis’s “Black,” from 1955, expected to bring $4 million to $6 million, and an untitled Adolph Gottlieb painting from 1960, estimated at $1.5 million to $2 million.
To secure the property, Christie’s gave Mr. Evans a guarantee — an undisclosed sum that it will pay him regardless of the sale’s outcome — that is believed to be around $50 million.The three paintings will be on view at Christie’s Rockefeller Center galleries on Monday and Tuesday, alongside selected works from the auction house’s February sales in London.http://www.nytimes.com/