repatriation

This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room

“This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room”

by Craig Gilmore via “LA Times”

la-dfunke-1480872321-snap-photo

Two agents from U.S. Homeland Security’s ICE unit arrived at my door in September looking for a Polish lady — not a person, but a painting: Melchior Geldorp’s “Portrait of a Lady.” She had, they informed me, been looted by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw.

Unsure if these gentlemen were indeed who they claimed to be, I didn’t invite them in. But I knew exactly what they were seeking: My partner, David, and I had purchased this very portrait — ostensibly the work of a different artist — a decade earlier from a major auction house in New York. 

Upon their leaving, I stood dumbfounded, holding a packet of information about the alleged provenance of our painting. After calling David at work to drop this bombshell, I began a Googling frenzy, eventually bringing me to Poland’s Division for Looted Art website. Seconds later I was gawking at an old black-and-white photo of our beloved lady, a beautiful portrait painted on oak panel in 1628. Tears welled in my eyes with the realization that, without question, if this were true we needed to do our duty and get her safely home.

Being an opera singer, I was among a group of vocalists on a government-sponsored tour of Israel some years ago. During a visit to a community center for Holocaust survivors I was asked to sing. The emotion of being surrounded by people who had prevailed through such unimaginable horrors was overwhelming, and I found myself unable. Excusing myself, I attempted to make up for it by spinning several of the ladies around the dance floor — all the while trying not to look down at the numbers tattooed on their wrists. 

Now this memory flooded back to me, and I found myself once again in tears, hyper-aware of how Nazi atrocities affect us still to this day.

The toll of World War II in Poland — including the deaths of 6 million Poles, Jews, and other outcasts, including homosexuals — is unimaginable. Being gay men, David and I feel a personal connection with these losses and are conscious of how political shiftings can lead to vulnerability. This, added to the knowledge that Poland’s LGBTQ community is still in a struggle for its basic rights, has weighed heavily on our minds. 

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Getty Museum returns the Head of Hades to Italy

Sometime between 300-400B.C., an unknown artist in Morgantina, Italy carefully sculpted this terra-cotta replica of the famed god of the Underworld, the feared Hades.  The skull or head itself was carefully sculpted on its own, and later the curly hair and beard were individually added, one curl at a time, just before the final firing in the kiln. Afterwards, it was carefully painted, and some parts of the paint remain such as the red in his hair and the blue in his beard.  This beautiful artifact is an amazingly well-preserved momento of painstaking artistry.

The piece goes by both the name “Head of Hades” and “Bluebeard” and was illegally excavated from an Italian archaeological dig during the 1970s. Afterwards it was sold and ended up at the Getty Museum in the USA.  

According to the Getty Website, the work was initially believed to be a depiction of Hades’ brother, Zeus (known occasionally as Bluebeard).  However, examination of the nearby discovered artifacts and the knowledge that Morgantina worshipped Persephone (kidnapped wife of Hades), they now believe it is actually Hades instead.  The kidnapping of Persephone is thought to have occurred at a lake near the city.  

Long story short, because the work was illegally excavated, it technically still belongs to Italy and was stolen property, meaning the Getty had to repatriate the bust to its nation of origin.  Although the legal exchange happened a couple years ago, the official trade occurred recently when Italian officials arrived to take over possession.  

One of the interesting notes to me is the fact that the Getty has owned this work since 1985 according to their own website. It is unclear why this is only being repatriated now.  

Either way, the work is finally home as Hades returns to his royal lands, protecting the good and punishing the wicked as they pass into his deadly realm.

Resources:

  1. Getty Website
  2. Yahoo! News

Smuggled artefacts to return to Egypt from Switzerland

“Smuggled artefacts to return to Egypt from Switzerland”

by Nevine El-Aref via “Ahram Online

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“A collection of 32 ancient Egyptian artefacts is to return back to Egypt in June after Egypt successfully asserted ownership of the objects.

Ali Ahmed, director of antiquities repatriation, told Ahram Online that the objects included limestone and wooden statues as well as a collection of limestone blocks from chapels across dfferent pharaonic periods.

The objects were seized by the Swiss police within the framework of a bilateral agreement between Egypt and Switzerland that prohibits the illegal import and export of cultural properties.

Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty said the objects are to be handed over to Egypt’s ambassador to Switzerland at the Federal Office for Culture in Bern during an event to mark tenth anniversary of the passage into Swiss law of a prohibition on illegal trade in cultural property.”

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The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art

“The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art”

by Ellen Otzen via “BBC News

Captain Walker, seated, on the right, in Benin City after British troops looted the palace

At the end of the 19th Century British troops looted thousands of works of art from the Benin Empire – in modern-day Nigeria – and brought them home. One soldier’s grandson inherited two bronzes but recently returned them to their original home.

“It’s an image that’s deeply ingrained in my memory. The dead body seemed unreal. It’s not a picture you can easily forget,” says Mark Walker.

He was 12 years old when he first saw his grandfather’s diary – the photographs inside made a deep impression.

“They were very faded, but perhaps the most shocking one for me was a partly dried-up body being held up by two men on a pole.

“Clearly the people lifting the body didn’t actually want to touch it and that seemed to me to capture the feeling my grandfather also had about them. It was something so horrible you wanted to keep it at arm’s length,” says Mark.

The pictures were taken by his grandfather, Capt Herbert Walker, in West Africa in 1897.

The two Walkers never met – Herbert died in 1932, 15 years before his grandson was born and Mark’s grandmother showed him the journal, titled To Benin and back, while he was staying with her in 1959.

The diary cover

The Benin Kingdom, which is now part of Nigeria, had a wealth of natural resources including ivory, palm oil and rubber which the UK was keen to control.

Mark Walker spoke to Witness on BBC World Service Radio

But in January 1897, seven British officials who were on their way to see the Oba of Benin – the king – were killed in an ambush.

The Times of London reported that the men “on quite a peaceful mission” had been “massacred by the King’s people”.

Map of Nigeria showing location of Benin City

It is unclear who, if anyone, ordered the killings and there are indications that the mission was not as peaceful as the British press described it. Although its leader, acting Consul-General James Phillips had sent a message to the Oba asking to discuss trade and peace, he had told London he wanted to depose him.

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Ohio Art Museum to Return Likely Stolen Artifact to Germany

“Ohio Art Museum to Return Likely Stolen Artifact to Germany”

via “ABC News

A 450-year-old German artifact that was used to tell time and to make astronomical calculations will be returned to a German museum from which it was likely stolen, according to the Toledo Museum of Art.

The device, called an astronomical compendium or astrolabe, disappeared from the Gotha Museum in Gotha, Germany, sometime in 1945.

“This was a one-of-a-kind scientific device,” said Brian Kennedy, president and director of the Toledo museum. “It’s sad to see it go, but it’s not ours.”

Americans occupied Gotha during the war and many of the museum’s collections were moved in 1945 to the former Soviet Union once authority over the area was transferred from United States.

The astronomical device, though, was one of the few items from the museum that didn’t end up in the Soviet Union. Instead, it landed in the hands of a New York art dealer before it was sold for $6,500 in 1954.

The museum in 2013 received a letter from the director of the Gotha Museum, saying that it found out about the piece in Toledo and believed it was theirs.

Kennedy said they reviewed documentation, including photographs, from the Gotha Museum and determined that the piece on display in Toledo was “most likely one and the same.”

The two museums then reached an agreement to get the historically valuable piece back to its rightful owner, Kennedy said. . . .

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