The Lost Chalice by Vernon Silver
(from the back of the book)
Spanning 2,500 years and moving from a Trojan War battlefield to an Athens pottery workshop to an Italian crypt, and involving tomb robbers, smugglers, a Hollywood producer, and a Texas billionaire, The Lost Chalice is a pulse-pounding real-life adventure story involving the search for an ancient masterpiece missing for more than a decade. Created by Euphronios, an artist renowned as the Leonardo da Vinci of ancient Greece, the chalice disappeared in 1990 after an anonymous European dealer outbid the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an auction at Sotheby’s.
Like City of Falling Angels and The Monster of Florence, The Lost Chalice uses a high-profile crime to open a window onto Italian history, culture, and life. The cup’s tale mirrors the life story of a mysterious contemporary dealer who made a fortune trading in antiquities – including the chalice – supplying the world’s greatest museums and rich collectors with artifacts from archaeological sites. The Maserati-driving art dealer holds the key to finding and saving the lost cup, but the discovery of the chalice’s fate reveals another riddle – and even greater missing treasure.
The Lost Chalice follows the hunt for an ancient piece of art that everyone knows exists but no one can seem to find. Along the way you learn about art history, grave robbing, how people tried to stop grave robbing, how art objects with shady pasts get false histories, art auctions, and the way that museums acquire pieces. All of which turned out to be much more interesting than I thought it would be. And the author really knows his stuff. I think part of my problem was that I have no art history knowledge. It was tough for me to get into this story. It started slowly and was talking about chalices, vases, cups, kraters, and kylixes and it took me a minute to realize that despite all the terms there were only two objects being discussed and it took me even longer to be able to keep the two straight. So it was a bit of a slog at first. But then I got into the story, even though there was a bit more detail than I think was needed at times, it was interesting to watch the story of the chalice unfold. It reads a lot like a detective story as with a few vague clues people try to make sense of the muddy history of the chalice and figure out where it came from, where it went and everything that happened to it in between. If you have no background in art history you may find it slow going in the beginning but it worth pushing on. It has a little something for anyone who likes a detective story, true crime, or history.