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US museum returns ancient Nazi-looted shield to Czechia

The artwork was supposed to be an attraction at 'Führermuseum'

17 September, 11:02
(ANSA) - BELGRADE, SEP 17 - (by Stefano Giantin) A precious decorated shield from the Sixteen century looted by the Nazis during World War II will be returned to the Czech Republic from the United States, where it has been on display in since 1976.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Czech Republic's National Heritage Institute jointly announced this week an agreement for the restitution of a precious Italian pageant shield with decoration attributed to Girolamo di Tommaso da Treviso (Italian, 1497-1544), the Museum said in a statement.

The shield has a long and significant history, the Museum said. The shield was formerly owned by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose assassination in 1914 represented the fuse that started World War I. Franz Ferdinand owned one of Europe's preeminent collections of arms and armor, which was displayed at the Konopiste Castle, near Prague. After World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the castle and its collections became the property of the government of Czechoslovakia, in 1919. In 1939 the Nazi annexed also the part of Czechoslovakia where Konopiste was located. In 1943 the German army confiscated the armor collection, including the shield. The artwork was supposed to be one of the attractions of the never built 'Führermuseum' that was planned to be constructed in Linz (Austria), honouring the history of Hitler. After World War II, large parts of the Konopiste collections were returned to Prague, but the shield went missing. Somehow, the shield was acquired by Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, "an avid collector of medieval arms and armor who donated his holdings to the Philadelphia institution when he died in 1976," the Smithsonian Magazine wrote.

Since 2016, the museum has been collaborating with historians in the Czech Republic to evaluate the provenance of the Italian pageant shield and finally concluded that the shield was the one illegally taken from Konopiste Castle by the Nazis and never restituted. Based on these revelations, the Museum decided to restitute the shield to Prague, the Philadelphia institution announced.

"A work that had been lost during the turmoil of World War II is being happily restituted," said Timothy Rub, the CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art." "The Philadelphia Museum of Art deserves enormous credit for being so forthcoming in returning this immensely valuable piece of art to the Czech Republic. This case is a prime example of best practices in restitution," said Hynek Kmonicek, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States. "We are delighted that after important negotiations we will soon be able to reinstate it as part of the collections of the National Heritage Institute and make it available once again to the public in Europe," Kmonicek added.

The painted decoration of the shield is attributed to Girolamo di Tommaso, based on a design by the painter Giulio Romano. It was made of wood, linen, gesso, gold, and pigment and is 24 inches in diameter. The scene depicted on its exterior shows the storming of New Carthage, during the Second Punic War.


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