While this blog is entitled Library Mom, as I have mentioned in my previous post, my undergraduate degree is in Art History. I also have a Postgraduate Diploma (essentially a Master’s Degree without the thesis) in Museum & Gallery Studies. While I was finishing up the program, and before I was told that I could not write my thesis due to average grades, I spent a month researching my topic. It was to be on Museum Art and Artifact Repatriation, specifically Egyptian art such as the Rosetta Stone, Nefertiti’s Bust and the mummy of Pharoah Ramesses II. I originally wanted to the Elgin Marbles, but there was so much scholarship being done on that that my material would’ve been out of date by the time it was published. For those who don’t know much about the topic, the Elgin Marbles are the marble sculptures and architectural artifacts from the top of the Parthenon, which according to Lord Elgin of Scotland were “legally” bought from the Turks (who occupied Greece at that time), around 1801. The controversy came into sharp focus after the Olympic Games held in Athens in 2004, and the Greeks had built a museum specifically for the Marbles. For more information this topic, check out this case study.
Anyways, the British Museum has the Rosetta Stone, which has been in their possession since 1801 after they defeated the French in Egypt, and the Berlin Art Museum has had Nefertiti’s head since 1913. I always find Nefertiti’s head to be the most interesting story. The Germans smuggled it inside a barrel of pork, which they knew the predominantly Muslim Egyptians wouldn’t check and that’s how it made it inside Berlin and into their art museum. Needless to say, the Egyptians, led by chief antiquities expert Zahi Hawass, want these treasures returned back to Egypt. In the case of Ramesses’s mummy, the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, repatriated it back to Egypt after discovering that the unknown mummy they had gotten from a museum sale in Canada was actually Pharoah Ramesses II.
Another time period that has had a lot of stolen art in the spotlight is WWII, as the Nazis stole tens of thousands of works of art from the Jewish people and museums in cities they conquered, such as Paris. An interesting paper on this can be found on the National Archives homepage. They actually discussed this quite a bit in a book I started reading but had to give back because it was on hold entitled Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece. The author of the book explains how Nazi top official Hermann Goring ordered a museum director to steal the Ghent Altarpiece, aka The Mystic Lamb and place it in the Alt Aussee salt mine. Goring alone had stolen 7,000 works of art and that’s not counting what Hitler and other Nazi officials had stolen on behalf of the Third Reich.