October 29, 2010

Benevento Missal returned to Italy by British Library under Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act

Posted at 1:15 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

As was speculated at the time of the law being passed, the Benevento Missal will be the first item to be officially returned under the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act.

The points made originally about this particular return in relation to the law that allows it still stand. There is no evidence that the Missal was looted by the Nazis, or had any connection to the Holocaust. The law however allows its return, because of the time period in which it was removed from Italy. This highlights the piecemeal legislation implemented (when it is politically advantageous to do so) opening up holes in the anti-deaccessioning rules that govern the UK’s largest museums. The Human Tissue act before it opened up similar holes. The fact that holes need to be opened up for so-called special cases highlights the need for a full review of the legislation to cover all artefacts in museums in the UK, that they can be returned from collections when necessary.

BBC News

15 September 2010 Last updated at 16:55
British Library returns manuscript looted during WWII

A 12th Century manuscript which was housed in the British Library is to be returned to Italy because it was looted during World War II.

The 290-page Beneventan Missal was taken from the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral City of Benevento, Naples, in 1943.

The British Library later acquired it, but after a change in the law it must be returned to its native city.

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

The manuscript was bought by a British army captain from a second-hand book seller in Naples in 1944, before being acquired at auction for the British Museum in 1947. It was then transferred to the British Library in 1973.

The Chapter discovered that the manuscript was in the British Library in 1961 – believing it had been destroyed in the war – and made formal claims in 1978 and 2000.

‘Highest standards of care’

In 2005, a ruling by an independent body concluded the Missal had probably been looted from the Metropolitan Chapter of the city between 1943 and 1944 and recommended the manuscript should be sent back.

However, it was not possible at the time because of the terms of the British Library Act which prevented it.

But following the passing of the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act of 2009, the Chapter resubmitted its claim for the Missal.

It will be the first item to be returned under the Act.

British Library chief executive Dame Lynne Brindley said: “We are now in discussions with the Chapter Library in Benevento to make arrangements for the return of the Missal.

“I understand the Chapter Library will continue to provide international scholars with the levels of access to the manuscript that they have enjoyed up to now and that the item will continue to benefit from the highest standards of care and stewardship.”

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: “We should all be incredibly grateful that the Missal has benefited from the highest possible standards of care during its time at the British Library.

“The city of Benevento will once again be custodian of this unique and culturally valuable manuscript, bringing to a close another chapter in its fascinating history.”

Evening Standard

Medieval book looted during war to go back to Italy
Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent

A 12th century manuscript will be returned to Italy from the British Library thanks to a new law governing artwork looted during the Nazi era.

The Beneventan Missal, which is thought to have been stolen from Benevento’s Metropolitan Chapter during the Allied bombing of Italy in 1943, will be given back to the city of Benevento, culture minister Ed Vaizey said today.

The manuscript is the first item to be returned under the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, which was passed to get around law preventing some museums and galleries in Britain from letting works leave their collections. The legislation makes an exception in the case of looted works.

The missal was bought by a British soldier, Captain DG Ash, from a second-hand bookseller in Naples in 1944, acquired at auction for the British Museum in 1947 and later transferred to the British Library.

Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, said she was in discussions to return the work. It is understood scholars will continue to have access to it in Italy.

An expert panel had recommended its return to the city of Benevento five years ago, but it was not possible at the time under the terms of the British Library Act.

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