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Disputed artefact lists and looted artefact lists

Only a few days after publishing a list of disputed artefacts, the Guardian has now also published a list of looted artefacts..

Many of the comments I made [1] in my introduction to the original piece still stand. It has been stated in the past that each artefact dispute is unique & should be judged on its own merits (i.e. the argument that return would set a precedent is unfounded). This lists shows just how diverse the category of looted artefacts is.

I’m also not quite sure how a list of the ten most notorious looted artworks can manage to omit the Parthenon Marbles.

The bust of Nefertiti in Germany's Neues Museum, claimed by Egypt [2]

The bust of Nefertiti in Germany’s Neues Museum, claimed by Egypt

Guardian [3]

From Napoleon to the Nazis: the 10 most notorious looted artworks
Romans, Nazis, Victorian-era Brits, noughties cat-burglars – they have all stolen priceless works. Here are the most shocking art thefts of the last two millennia
Ivan Lindsay
Thursday 13 November 2014 17.31 GMT

Looting has been part of human behaviour since ancient times. The Romans did it in their very first conquest, in 396 BC. They stripped the city of Veii of anything valuable and established a template for looting that lasted over 2,000 years. It was only in 1815 that the Congress of Vienna made the first serious effort at post-conflict restitution of plundered art.

After the Romans it became standard practice for a victor to remove all treasure from the vanquished, to weaken their status. Booty also provided handy funds to pay for military campaigns.

Looting soon became more than a mere byproduct of war – it became an acceptable reason to start one. The Vikings, the Conquistadors, the medieval princes, and later Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin looted on an epic scale. Today, Interpol has over 35,000 stolen items on its art database – and art thefts continue apace.

Here are 10 of the most significant artworks ever looted. Surprisingly, many of their locations are known, but because of the passing of time and complications in international law, they remain where they are … for now.

The Horses of St Mark
A bronze set of four Greek horses walking in a line, each with one hoof raised. They were most probably made by the Greek sculptor Lysippus, who worked for Alexander the Great. Some say they started out on the island of Chios, but they were stolen around AD 330 from ‘somewhere in Greece’ by Emperor Constantine, who put them in pride of place in his new capital, Constantinople, on the triumphal gate leading into the Hippodrome. In 1204, they were stolen for the second time by Doge Enrico Dandolo after the sack of Constantinople in the fourth crusade. Dandolo put them on the terrace of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where they stayed until 1797. Then it was Napoleon’s turn to nab them; he mounted them atop the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. At one point, Napoleon ordered the horses to be melted down for cannon balls, but the foundry declined (the horses were made of the wrong kind of alloy). The conquering allies sent them back to Venice after Napoleon’s fall in 1815. Current location: St Mark’s Basilica, Venice.

Dove with Green Peas, 1911, by Pablo Picasso
On 20 May 2010, a cat burglar broke into the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and cut five canvases out of their frames – this important work from Picasso’s cubist period, plus masterpieces by Léger, Braque, Matisse and Modigliani. The man who broke in, a Serb called Vrejan T or “Spiderman”, somehow managed to avoid 30 CCTV cameras. Sleeping guards and a faulty alarm failed to stop him. French police later picked up three men believed to have been involved in the heist. One of the men claimed the paintings were thrown in a garbage truck and crushed, but the police say the information gleaned from them was unreliable. Current location: unknown.

Place de la Concorde, 1875, by Edgar Degas
Originally owned by the German industrialist Otto Gerstenberg (1848–1935), this Degas was sent by his daughter Margarete Scharf to the National Gallery in Berlin for safekeeping. From here it was stolen by the Soviet army, who packed it off to the Soviet Union in October 1945 on the same train as the Pergamon Altar and Botticelli’s illustrations for the Divine Comedy. The Russians vehemently denied having it (along with roughly 3 million other stolen artworks) until they audaciously put it on show at the Hermitage Museum in February 1995 in an exhibition called Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces from German private collections. Current location: Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

The Wedding at Cana, 1563, by Paolo Veronese
This one-and-a-half-ton painting was commissioned by the monks of San Giorgio Maggiore, and shows Jesus turning water into wine. The huge work (measuring 666cm x 990cm) hung in the monastery, on the very wall Veronese designed it for, until Napoleon turned the monastery into his Venetian headquarters in 1797. He transferred it to the refurbished great hall in the Louvre. When he decided to use that hall for his wedding to Marie-Louise of Austria in 1810, it interfered with his plans and he ordered it to be destroyed, saying “Since it cannot be moved – burn it.” Luckily, the curators ignored this command. The Congress of Vienna declined to return it to Venice in 1815 on logistical grounds – it was deemed too large. Current location: Louvre, Paris.

Limestone bust of Queen Nefertiti, c 1345 BC, by the sculptor Thutmose
While he was digging at Amarna in 1912, the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt discovered this bust and stole it. Under the established procedure of “partage”, he was meant to declare all items to an official of the Antiquities Service in Tell el Amarna, so a fair split could be made. But he did not declare her, and when she was exhibited in Berlin soon after, it caused an outrage in Egypt that has continued ever since. When Egypt offered to exchange Nefertiti for another ancient sculpture in 1933, museum officials agreed but were overruled by Hitler, who said she was one of his favourite statues and belonged in Germany. The Nazis hid her in the Merkers salt mine, where she was found by the US army in 1945 and returned to Berlin, despite Egypt’s protests. Current location: Egyptian Museum, Berlin.

The golden death mask of King Kofi Karikari, 1837–1884
The Ashanti death mask was stolen from the royal mausoleum in Kumasi, Ghana, during the punitive Ashanti campaign of 1873. Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley had all the Ashanti gold from the entire city removed, including masks, swords, headdresses and jewellery. The current Ghanaian government has claimed these items, which are mostly housed in the British Museum today. The mask was bought by Richard Wallace, who bequeathed it to the British nation. Current location: Wallace Collection, London.

The Art of Painting, 1665, by Johannes Vermeer

Count Rudolf Czernin of Vienna owned this Vermeer before the second world war. The count declined an offer of US $6m before the war, but in 1940 accepted RM (Reichmarks) 1.7m from Hitler – the highest price ever paid by the Führer for a painting, but a fraction of the offers Czernin had previously rejected. The Czernin family later claimed that he sold it under duress (his wife had a Jewish grandparent) and tried to claim it back after the war. The US army found it in 1945 hidden in the Altaussee salt mine in Austria, where it narrowly escaped being dynamited by the retreating German army. In the mine, spread out over 67km of tunnels on 18 levels, the US army found more than 6,500 artworks that had all been destined for Hitler’s planned super-museum in Linz. Czernin’s heirs have tried to recover the painting ever since, but their efforts have been repeatedly thrown out by the Austrian government, most recently in May 2011. Current location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

The Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence, 1609, by Caravaggio
Also known as the Adoration, this large multi-figure composition hung in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, until it was stolen on 18 October 1969. Most people believe the thieves were the Sicilian mafia, and although various mafia informers over the years, including Francesco Marino Mannoia in 1996 and Gaspare Spatuzza in 2009, have claimed knowledge of the painting’s whereabouts, it has never been found. Spatuzza claimed it was stolen for a private collector, but was eaten by rats and pigs while being stored at a farm. Current location: unknown.

Portrait of a Young Man, 1513, by Raphael
In 1798, Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski imported this self-portrait from Italy into Poland and put it in his family museum in Kraków, where it remained until it was hidden from the Nazis (along with Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine) in Sieniawa. With the help of the Gestapo, it was discovered by the Nazi governor of Poland, Hans Frank, and was last seen at Frank’s apartment in Kraków. When the Germans fled Kraków before the advancing Soviet offensive, Frank sent his paintings first to Silesia and then his villa at Neuhaus. When the Americans arrested Frank on 3 May 1945 for war crimes, they recovered many of the stolen artworks, including the Leonardo, but the Raphael was never seen again. Current location: unknown.

Reclining Nude, 1969, by Henry Moore
This two-tonne bronze was stolen in December 2005 from the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. CCTV cameras recorded a gang using a small crane to lift the sculpture on to the back of a truck. An hour later, the truck, which had been stolen in Roydon, Essex, was spotted carrying the sculpture through Harlow. According to British police, it was then cut up and sent to China, via Rotterdam, where it was melted down and used for electrical components. The Henry Moore Foundation offered a reward of £100,000 for the £3m sculpture, but it is believed the scrap bronze was sold for less than £1,500. Charles Hill, the former head of Scotland Yard’s art and antiques squad, said he was tipped off by notorious art thief Jimmy Johnson that a group of travellers was responsible for the theft. Current location: unknown, probably destroyed.

• History of Loot and Stolen Art: From Antiquity Until the Present Day by Ivan Lindsay is published by Unicorn Press.