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British Library to return Looted Italian Manuscript

Following the article in the Art Newspaper yesterday, most of the national papers in the UK picked up on this story today. However only the Guardian mentions the fact that a change in the law to allow the return, would potentially only cover items looted during the Nazi era & not other objects of disputed ownership.
None of the sources so far though have explained why this approach would be a reasonable or logical way to approach the problem. Surely, all other things being equal, an item looted by the Nazis & another item looted by others should have an equally strong case for restitution? Furthermore it seems particularly odd that the limitation period would also have a later limit (between the end of the war to… the present day presumably) in addition to the early limit for the period prior to the war.

From:
The Guardian [1]

Looted ancient book must be sent back to Italy

12th century missal found its way from a cathedral to the British Library. Now its return may mean a law change

Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
Thursday March 24, 2005
The Guardian

Wartime loot may summon up images of art treasures plundered by the Nazis from persecuted Jews, rather than a rare book acquired by the British Library from a respectable English army captain.

But now a 12th-century missal which has formed part of the library’s collection since 1947, must be returned to its home city of Benevento, in southern Italy, according to a ruling.

It is written in the rare Beneventan script, unique to the region, which flourished from the 8th to the 13th centuries.

The ruling marks the first time that an artwork plundered during the second world war and held in a British national collection will be returned to its rightful owners.

The claim was brought by the metropolitan chapter of the Cathedral of Benevento to the Spoliation Advisory Panel, a body set up in 2000 by the government to assess claims on art in national collections allegedly looted during the Nazi era.

The panel had to decide, according to Jeremy Scott, a lawyer of Withers LLP, which acted for the chapter of Benevento, “whether the object was lost in the Nazi era of 1933-45 in circumstances of the mayhem of war, and whether there was a ‘moral case’ for the restitution of the object, or compensation”.

The panel’s report, by Sir David Hirst, judged that the missal – though the evidence was “circumstantial” and the arguments “finely balanced” – had, in fact, been looted, and that the moral claim of the Italians for restoration held good.

The case was set in motion when Martin Bailey, a writer for the Art Newspaper, was tipped off about possible problems in the missal’s provenance and reported on the looted manuscript in July 2000.

The following year he visited Benevento, in Campania, north-east of Naples, and in the course of discussion with Archbishop Serafino Sprovieri, “explained to him that he might have a chance” of getting the missal back.

“It was a very important cathedral, which was almost totally destroyed by allied bombing,” said Mr Bailey. “That makes it so important that the missal goes back. Benevento lost so much.”

How the missal got out of the Benevento chapter library and into the hands of Captain Douglas Ash, of the Intelligence Corps, is something of a mystery. But he showed it to the British Library in 1946 and wrote in a letter: “When I was in Italy I bought an old book in Naples in April 1944. Knowing nothing about it, except that it was very old, being described by the secondhand bookseller as molto antico.”

After Capt Ash’s death, his daughter recalled how the missal had arrived in the post from Italy, wrapped in “several yards of deep maroon or plum-coloured satin-like fabric”, and rather damp.

The British Library (then the library of the British Museum) mooted that the book might be illegal plunder, but bought the missal for £420 the following year when it was auctioned by Capt Ash.

In September 1943, the allies bombed Benevento, virtually destroying its medieval cathedral. The books of the chapter library had already been carefully removed to the Pontifical seminary, just outside the city.

In October, Benevento was captured from the Germans by the allies, and the seminary was requisitioned and used as a military hospital until October 1944.

Happily for the reputation of the British officer class, Sir David thinks the open and honest behaviour of the late Capt Ash “is not typical of a thief or a culpable handler of stolen goods”. The missal was bought in good faith, he says, having been looted in late 1943 or early 1944.

The missal itself was written in the early 12th century at the scriptorium of the monastery of Santa Sofia in Benevento for the nuns of the Benedictine monastery of St Peter Intra Muros. It was acquired by the chapter of Benevento, it is thought, after an earthquake in 1688 drove the nuns to Naples. It has 290 folios, consisting of a missal and a calendar, and some musical notations of Beneventan chant.

The British Library has accepted the return of the missal. Dr Clive Field, its director of scholarship and collections, said: “It is a loss in our collection – that’s entirely clear – but we do have other examples of the genre.”

There is a twist in the tale: English law means that at present the missal can be returned only on loan. The act of parliament under which the British Library was founded (in common with the foundation statutes of other national museums) states that no objects from the collection can be disposed of. However, the panel has recommended a change in the law to exempt looted items from the Nazi era, and the arts minister, Estelle Morris, said that she would consider the recommendation.

The proposed adjustment would cover only items looted in the Nazi era and not other objects of disputed ownership, such as the Elgin marbles.

The case of the Beneventan missal is the third to be ruled on by the Spoliation Advisory Panel since British museums agreed in 1998 to publish lists of objects of “incomplete provenance” for the years 1933-45. The lists contain details of thousands of objects – more than 900 drawings from the Ashmolean Museum alone.

Paintings lost to their owners

  • In November last year, the Spoliation Advisory Panel said a still life by the 18th-century French artist, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, should be restored to the descendants of German gallery owners who had sold it to pay a bogus Nazi tax bill in 1936. It was later acquired in good faith by Sir William Burrell. However, the painting is still in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. The terms of Sir William’s will prevent the “sale, donation or exchange” of artworks. The museum is understood to be in discussions with the anonymous relations of the original owners about the best way forward.
  • In 2001, the British government agreed to pay £125,000 compensation to relations of a Düsseldorf banker, shot in 1937, who was the original owner of View of Hampton Court Palace (1710) by Jan Griffier the Elder. His wife was forced to sell it for food while in hiding in occupied Brussels. The painting remains in Tate Britain – by which it was purchased in good faith – with a note explaining its history.

Other papers carrying the story this morning:

Of particular note was The Times, which had a helpful list of other battles over cultural treasures at the end of the article.

From:
The Times [2]

March 24, 2005

British Library told to return soldier’s ‘looted’ Italian manuscript
By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

A 12th-CENTURY manuscript in the British Library was looted from a cathedral near Naples during the Second World War and must be returned, an independent panel ruled yesterday.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel’s backing of a 27-year campaign by the city of Benevento to be reunited with a jewel of Italy’s heritage was dramatic because it also called for the Government to introduce a law to allow the restitution of looted treasures.

The panel, set up by the Government to resolve claims over art allegedly plundered during the Nazi era and now in public collections, concluded that Benevento had “made good their moral claim” for a “just and fair solution”.

It said that the manuscript should be returned as soon as possible on loan while the law is changed to allow its permanent return.

The 290-folio illuminated missal had been kept at the chapter library at the Romanesque cathedral of Benevento for hundreds of years before its removal in September 1943.

The panel, chaired by Sir David Hirst, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal, concluded that the manuscript disappeared in “suspicious circumstances”.

All that is known is that it was moved to a seminary just outside the city after the devastating bombing of 1943, before the American 5th Army’s advance and before it was bought by a British officer in the Intelligence Corps in 1944.

Douglas George Eric Dacre Ash, a British Army captain who died last year, had claimed to have bought it from a bookseller in Naples in 1944. Eventually it was bought by the British Museum Library in 1947 for £441.

Exporting the manuscript was illegal under Italian law but Captain Ash’s daughter told the panel that her father had posted the missal back to Britain. There is no evidence that Captain Ash looted the manuscript. The panel noted that he had openly disclosed his name, rank and address in taking the manuscript to the British Museum Library for an opinion.

He explained in a letter: “When I was in Italy I bought an old book in Naples in April 1944. Knowing nothing about it except that it was very old, it being described by the second-hand bookseller as ‘molto antico’. I am interested in anything old and have a collection of swords and armour, but this book is completely beyond me.”

The panel concluded that although the standards of the time were less rigorous than today’s, “the possibility that the missal had been looted was so manifest that its provenance should have been further investigated” — particularly as the museum’s deputy keeper of manuscripts had correctly recognised that the missal had come from Benevento.

The Metropolitan Chapter of the Archdiocese of Benevento, which first made a formal claim for the manuscript in 1978, was being advised pro bono by the City law firm Withers in presenting its case to the panel. Jeremy Scott, principal in the litigation department at Withers, was astonished by the library’s repeated dismissal of Benevento’s claim.

“The library argued strongly that the relevant librarian in Benevento after the war had not done enough to find out what had happened to the manuscript,” he said. “The panel didn’t think that was fair.

“In fact, the British Library didn’t publish this acquisition until about 1952. Our evidence was that people in Benevento had no idea it was in the British Library.”

The library had argued that the limitation period of six years from 1947 — the date of its acquisition — had long expired and that, even if it had wanted to return it, the terms of the British Library Act prevented it.

BATTLES OVER CULTURAL TREASURES

  • Elgin marbles: Britain has rejected Greece’s proposal to place the sculptures on loan in an annexe of the British Museum in Athens
  • Rosetta stone: British Museum turned down a request for a loan to Cairo
  • Axum obelisk: The 1,700-year-old obelisk in Rome is set to return to Ethiopia after being taken during Mussolini’s occupation in the 1930s
  • Tabots: the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in London wants treasures looted by British troops in 1868
  • Lindisfarne gospels: British Library has rejected calls for return to the North East of 7th-century works
  • Lewis chessmen: British Museum dismissed claims for 12th-century treasures to go to the Western Isles
  • Maori heads: Perth museum agreed in January to return two preserved tattooed Maori heads to New Zealand after more than 150 years in Scotland
  • Aboriginal artefacts: In July 2004 Australian customs seized Aboriginal artefacts, including two early etchings, while on loan from the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens

From:
The Independent [3]

After years of wrangling, an Italian city’s prayer is answered
By Jonathan Brown

24 March 2005

The Italian city of Benevento endured some of the most savage bombing of the Second World War as the advancing Allies sought to loosen the Nazi grip on Italy. The devastation wreaked by wave after wave of air raids in 1943 left the city’s Romanesque cathedral in ruins and its historic Chapter Library badly damaged.

Yesterday, a distant echo of that bitter conflict reverberated through the sedate corridors of the British Library as it was ordered to return a priceless 12th-century manuscript looted during the height of the bombardment in southern Italy.

The library has been involved in a decades-long wrangle with the Metropolitan Chapter of the Archdiocese of Benevento over the ownership of the 275-page liturgical tome.

But a long-awaited and keenly contested finding by the independent Spoliation Advisory Panel found in favour of the former Papal city. The Beneventan Missal will now be transferred to the Chapter Library in its home city on loan until the law is changed to make the arrangement permanent.

Complete with elaborate decorations, motifs and foliage, the Missal – which contains details of the celebration of Mass during a complete liturgical year – is written in Beneventan script known as Benevento VI 29 or Egerton 3511. Of particular interest to scholars are the examples of musical notation contained in the document.

The decision has prompted the Government to announce plans to introduce legislation allowing for other such looted items to be returned to their rightful owners. The British Library is the first national collection to be required to repatriate a treasure stolen during the Nazi era. An appeal six years ago led to the Tate negotiating a £125,000 compensation deal with the descendants of a Jewish banker over a painting by Jan Griffier to keep the work in the UK.

Estelle Morris, the arts minister, welcomed the panel’s findings. She said: “I know that the British public would be unhappy to know that a cultural institution in this country contained a work which had been identified as being wrongfully separated from its rightful owners during this period, and nothing had been done to right that wrong.”

Jeremy Scott, of law firm Withers which represented Benevento, said it had been a “long and hard struggle”. He warned that there were still obstacles to the successful completion of the deal. “While I understand that the Secretary of State accepts the panel’s recommendations, Parliament now has to be persuaded to make a small amendment to the British Library Act,” he said.

The manuscript was brought back to Britain by Captain Douglas Ash, then a young intelligence officer in the Royal Artillery. His daughter gave evidence to the panel, which heard that he claimed to have purchased it from a secondhand bookseller in Naples while posted to the city in April 1944.

In a letter he confessed to “knowing nothing about it except that it was very old”. He wrote: “I am interested in anything old and have a collection of swords and armour, but the book is completely beyond me.”

On his return home he approached the then British Museum Library which told him to establish its true provenance. It was eventually auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1947 where it was bought by the London dealer Bernard Quaritch for £420. He sold it to the library where it went on display. The Italians only became aware of its whereabouts in the late 1960s – until then Church authorities believed it had been destroyed, either in the bombing or in the turbulence surrounding the fall of Mussolini. A formal claim was eventually made in in 1978 but was dismissed under British law because too much time had elapsed since the loss.

Lynne Brindley, the chief executive of the British Library, said she would begin negotiations over the details of the loan.

“The library will be seeking to ensure that the loan meets rigorous conditions which will guarantee that appropriate levels of stewardship and scholarly access will be maintained,” she said.

From:
The Daily Telegraph [4]

Britain will return looted manuscript
By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent
(Filed: 24/03/2005)

The case of a valuable medieval manuscript looted in Italy as the Allies battled with the Axis powers is likely to end with MPs passing ground-breaking legislation to return ownership to the Italian church.

The 580-page 12th century missal (prayer book) vanished from Benevento cathedral, 50 miles north-east of Naples, in 1943 after it was severely bombed by American planes.

Now valued at up to £300,000, the book has been in the archives of the British Library since 1947.

But yesterday, Estelle Morris, the arts minister, ordered that it should be returned to the cathedral under new rules concerning Nazi loot found in British public collections.

By law, institutions such as the British Museum and British Library are not allowed to sell or give up the rights to any of their holdings and a new law will be required to meet Miss Morris’s requirement.

From:
The Scotsman [5]

Looted Manuscript to Be Returned to Italy

By Helen William, PA

A 12th century manuscript belonging to the British Library is to be returned to Italy because it was looted in the Second World War, it was ruled today.

The British Library has “accepted” the 290-page Beneventan Missal should be returned on long-term loan as soon as possible.

In its ruling the independent Spoliation Advisory Panel also urged the Government to introduce a new law to allow restitution of objects stolen in the Nazi era.

The manuscript, a Missal and calendar written in Beneventan script known as Benevento VI 29 or Egerton 3511, was looted from the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral City of Benevento, Naples, in 1943.

The panel tried to identify how the manuscript, complete with decorations, motifs and foliage, came to leave the monastery before resurfacing in one of the city’s second-hand bookshops. It was bought by British Army Captain DG Ash.

The British Museum Library bought it at Sotheby’s in 1947 for £441.

It will now be transferred to the Chapter Library in Benevento.

The Chapter discovered that the manuscript was in London’s British Library in 1961 and made a formal claim in 1978 and 2000.

Arts minister Estelle Morris described the panel’s decision as “the most appropriate way to proceed”.

She said: “It is important that questions of ownership arising from the terrible events of the Second World War Nazi era are resolved.

“I know that the British public would be unhappy to know that a cultural institution in this country contained a work which had been identified as being wrongfully separated from its rightful owners during this period, and nothing had been done to right that wrong.

“I shall now also be considering the recommendation to introduce legislation to permit restitution of objects in this particular category.”

Ms Brindley said: “The Library has, as required by statute, exercised careful stewardship of the manuscript for nearly sixty years and it has been studied here by distinguished scholars.

“Thus the Library will be seeking to ensure that the loan meets rigorous conditions which will guarantee that appropriate levels of stewardship and scholarly access will be maintained”.

Archbishop Seraphinus Sprovieri, who wrote to the Culture Secretary, linked the disappearance with the turbulence of Mussolini’s Italy. It is understood that the archbishop has made several informal petitions before.

It seems the Italians were unaware that the missal still existed until the late 1960s, knowing nothing of its post-war fate and believing it had been destroyed.

Principles on how works of art looted in the Nazi era should be dealt with were addressed at the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets in December 1998 and at the London Conference on Nazi Gold in December 1987.

From:
BBC News [6]

Looted manuscript to be returned
A 12th century manuscript owned by the British Library must be returned to Italy because it was looted during WWII, an independent panel has ruled.

The British Library accepted the Beneventan Missal should be returned on loan as soon as possible.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel called for a law to allow the restitution of objects looted in the Nazi era.

It said the manuscript was taken from a cathedral and acquired by the British Museum in good faith.

The manuscript is a missal and calendar written in Beneventan script known as Benevento VI 29 or Egerton 3511.

It was taken from the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral City of Benevento, between 1943 and 1944.

Book shop

The panel tried to identify how the 290-page document came to leave the monastery before resurfacing in one of the city’s second-hand bookshops.

It was bought by British Army Captain DG Ash. The British Museum Library then bought it at Sotheby’s in 1947 for £441.

It was transferred with the British Museum Library’s collections to the British Library on its foundation in 1973.

Arts Minister Estelle Morris described the panel’s decision that it should now be returned to Italy as “the most appropriate way to proceed”.

“It is important that questions of ownership arising from the terrible events of the Second World War Nazi era are resolved,” she said.

‘Wrongfully separated’

“I know that the British public would be unhappy to know that a cultural institution in this country contained a work which had been identified as being wrongfully separated from its rightful owners during this period.”

She also said she will also be considering the panel’s recommendation for legislation to permit restitution of such objects.

The manuscript will now be transferred to the Chapter Library in Benevento.

The Chapter discovered that the manuscript was in the British Library in London in 1961 and made formal claims in 1978 and 2000.

British Library Chief Executive Lynne Brindley said the library had exercised careful stewardship of the manuscript for nearly 60 years and it has been studied by “distinguished scholars”.

She said they would be seeking to ensure the loan met “rigorous conditions”.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel was set up by the then Arts Minister Alan Howarth in 2000, to trace the ownership of art allegedly seized from Jewish owners before and during the Holocaust.