Ceremony for the conclusion of a cultural agreement between Schleswig-Holstein and Italy - joint press release of Kiel University and the Schleswig-Holstein Ministry of General Education and Vocational Training, Science, Research and Culture
High-ranking visitors on the Kiel Fjord: Lieutenant Colonel Paolo Salvatori from the Italian "Tutela Patrimonio Culturale" accepted four vases from Kiel University’s Collection of Classical Antiquities today (14 September). Schleswig-Holstein's Minister of Culture Karin Prien and CAU President Prof. Dr. Simone Fulda presented the art objects at a ceremony attended by around 80 invited guests, including His Excellency the Italian Ambassador to Germany, Armando Varricchio.
The handover in the Kunsthalle zu Kiel (Kiel Art Gallery) marked the ceremonial conclusion of a cultural agreement between Schleswig-Holstein and Italy.
Minister of Culture Karin Prien: "Stolen art in our museums and collections is a fact that we face. We owe the knowledge of this to a constant reappraisal of the origin of art objects and stocks. This results in a moral obligation for all those who bear responsibility to return cultural property to the country of origin, over and above legal requirements.
I would like to expressly thank Prof. Dr. Haug, who actively and successfully promoted the process of returning the vases to Italy. The new cooperation agreement with Italy strengthens the cooperation between the two countries and is a sign of the quality of Schleswig-Holstein as a cultural location."
Returns: close cooperation with Italy
The Italian authorities had already approached the state of Schleswig-Holstein in 2018 with the return requests. This is because the vases – a bell crater, a Gnathian crater, an Apulian-red figure vase and a loutrophoros – are very likely to originate from grave robberies in the Apulia region. They were legally acquired at the time, but as their provenance is problematic, it was agreed to return the objects within the framework of a cultural agreement.
"Today's handover marks the end of a process that Schleswig-Holstein and Italy began many months ago," said CAU President Prof. Dr. Simone Fulda. "It has grown into an exchange based on partnership, for which I sincerely thank those involved. I am pleased that with this evening we are bringing the cultural agreement and the return of the objects to a ceremonial conclusion."
His Excellency, the Italian Ambassador to Germany, Armando Varricchio said: "Germany and Italy cooperate intensively in the field of protecting cultural heritage, something that contributes daily to enriching our close relations and in which Italy has played a pioneering role since 1969 with the creation of a working group for the protection of cultural and artistic heritage. Protecting our artistic and cultural heritage means preserving our historical memory, but also our future identity and sense of community and belonging."
On the German side, Prof. Dr. Annette Haug, Head of the Kiel Collection of Classical Antiquities and Professor of Classical Archaeology, worked out the details of the agreement in close consultation with the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Culture.
Prof. Dr. Annette Haug said: "The items were legally acquired in the 1980s and 1990s under the German law in force at the time and there is no retroactive obligation to repatriate them. We do, however, have a moral responsibility to return these objects." The Kiel Collection of Classical Antiquities stands for handling the items in its collections responsibly. "On the one hand, we take into account the cultural heritage that is entrusted to us. And on the other, we also face up to the international responsibility that such objects entail, now as well as in the future."
In the course of restoring the Kunsthalle zu Kiel, the Collection of Classical Antiquities will be closing for the time being. Once it is reopened, Italian museums will provide loans of equal value for a fixed period of time.
On the occasion of the ceremony, the Collection of Classical Antiquities is drawing attention to the problematic provenance of objects in a small cabinet exhibition. The returned showpiece, the loutrophoros, is presented here as a 3D replica. Even after the museum reopens, the history behind the exhibited vessels will be made a topic.
Future purchases only with clarified provenance
For the Kiel Collection of Classical Antiquities today pursues a different vision than it did a few years ago. The old objects that have lawfully entered the collection are to be tailored to current issues as part of special exhibitions. In the course of the cultural agreement, it will also be possible to present more and more new finds in the collection. In future, new acquisitions will be limited to plaster casts of antique originals.
“Grave robberies destroy international research findings. Only when museums and individuals consistently refrain from acquiring such objects will we have made a decisive step towards protecting cultural property and also towards understanding other cultures,” said Prof. Dr. Annette Haug. Returning the four vases is intended to set an example.