The Venus de Milo was discovered on this day in 1820, by a farmer digging among the ruins of Milos, the ancient capital city on that Aegean island. Just as the island itself had for centuries been pulled by the tides of regional power politics, so the statue was immediately caught in a many-sided tug-of-war. The peasant, who had been digging for rocks he could reuse on his farm, was anxious to sell his find quickly; the local Greek authorities wanted a cut of any sale; the ruling Ottoman Turks made a bid based on colonial entitlement; and a French naval officer, who just happened to be digging for antiquities a few yards away from the farmer, hoped to hustle the statue home as a gift to King Louis XVIII — something France could offer as a trophy-art rival to the Elgin Marbles, enshrined in the British Museum just a few years earlier. Ready cash and good timing awarded Venus to the French, and she has been a star attraction at the Louvre ever since.
Robert K. Wittman’s Priceless is a unique cops-and-robbers tale describing his undercover career at the FBI tracking down those who steal and fence world-class treasures :
In eighteen years with the bureau, [I recovered] $225 million worth of stolen artworks and antiquities — icons of American history, European classics, and artifacts from ancient civilizations. I’d built a career catching art thieves, scammers, and black-market traders in nearly every art venue, going undercover in places as distant as Philadelphia, Warsaw, Santa Fe, and Madrid. I’d rescued works of art by Rodin, Rembrandt, and Rockwell, and pieces of history as varied as Geronimo’s headdress and a long-lost copy of the Bill of Rights.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.