Possession The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present Erin Thompson

Publication date:
05 Jul 2016
Yale University Press
232 pages: 235 x 156 x 22mm
17 b-w illus.
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A riveting account of private art collectors' passion from Roman times to the present

Whether it's the discovery of $1.6 billion in Nazi-looted art or the news that Syrian rebels are looting UNESCO archaeological sites to buy arms, art crime commands headlines. Erin Thompson, America's only professor of art crime, explores the dark history of looting, smuggling, and forgery that lies at the heart of many private art collections and many of the world's most renowned museums.
Enlivened by fascinating personalities and scandalous events, Possession shows how collecting antiquities has been a way of creating identity, informed by a desire to annex the past while providing an illicit thrill along the way. Thompson's accounts of history's most infamous collectors—from the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who stole a life-sized nude Greek statue for his bedroom, to Queen Christina of Sweden, who habitually pilfered small antiquities from her fellow aristocrats, to Sir William Hamilton, who forced his mistress to enact poses from his collection of Greek vases—are as mesmerizing as they are revealing.

Erin Thompson is assistant professor in the Department of Art and Music at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.

"Riveting. . . . [A] treasure trove of a book."—Willard Spiegelman, Wall Street Journal

"A fine and entertaining account."—Jas Elsner, Times Literary Supplement

"In her insightful history of private collectors of Greek and Roman antiquity, Erin Thompson, America’s only full-time professor of crime, explores how collectors’ desires dramatically changed the fate of antiquities, altering their sex, identity and meaning . . . an informed investigation."—Tiffany Jenkins, Literary Review

"Thompson concludes that collecting art is an ideal way for individuals to connect to the past and acquire a certain identity and social prestige. Perfect reading for art lovers and ideal for dipping into."—Rebecca Wallersteiner, The Lady

An NPR Best Book of 2016

Shortlisted for the 2017 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

"With elan and insight, Erin Thompson delves into the fascinating history of the human obsession to personally own physical relics of the past. Possession illuminates the complex psychological and social motives that drive individuals to collect antiquities, from ancient Roman emperors and Renaissance popes to modern connoisseurs and today's looters (and destroyers) of archaeological treasures."—Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons and The Poison King

"Erin Thompson advances the study of the art world by taking on the hard work: the examination of the motives behind those who take the leap into the world of collecting. Possession is an essential study of collecting throughout the ages, whether the art be precious or illicit, by a leading scholar in the field."—Anthony M. Amore, author of The Art of the Con and Stealing Rembrandts

Shortlisted for the 2017 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.