Ancient wine artefact returns to Rome

  • Monday 14 January 2008

Hundreds of museum goers said a last-day farewell Sunday to the most famous wine artefact in the vast Metropolitan Museum of Art - and perhaps America.

For more than three decades, the large 2,500-year-old vessel, the Euphronios krater, has been displayed at the museum, on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.

The large 26-inch-wide terracotta krater, bought for $1m in 1972, was used by ancient Greeks to mix wine and water. Paintings on it are attributed to Euphronios, a Greek artisan.

The krater is going to Italy to be displayed temporarily in the Quirinale, the presidential palace in Rome, along with other looted artworks that have been repatriated.

Italy maintained for years that the krater had been smuggled from a tomb in Cervetri, close to Rome. Etruscan-era Cervetri possesses the largest ancient necropolis in the Mediterranean region.

In 2006, the Met struck a deal under which it would hand over to Italy 21 reportedly stolen objects; in exchange, the Italian government is lending the Met a number of rare ceramic antiquities.

Grapes and wine were important to the Greek diet. The Oxford Companion to Wine, relates that in ancient Greece ‘wine was almost always drunk diluted with water: the ratio varied, normally ranging between 2:3 and 1:3, which would give a range in alcoholic strength of about 3-6% and generally at the lower end of this range.’

It adds: ‘Weaker mixtures are disparaged in comedy...but 1:1 was considered by some dangerous to the health, and the regular drinking of unmixed wine, a habit confined to barbarians, was believed by some Spartans to have caused the insanity and death of their King Cleomenes.’

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