The human cost of the Holocaust is recorded in our collective conscious and in the history books, but the material cost may not be quite so fixed or readily apparent. A reminder of this is a high profile restitution case involving a painting by Brescian master Girolamo Romanino (ca. 1484/8 –ca. 1560) and the grandchildren of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe. Paul Jeromack writes for artnet how the family of this Italian Jew who relocated to France and died just prior to the 1941 Nazi invasion saw their rightful ownership of Christ Carrying the Cross recognized – in American courts.
Although Giuseppe’s heirs successfully negotiated the return of several other masterpieces from the Louvre and the Berlin Gemaldegalerie, their repeated attempts to claim this important 16th-century work from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan were dismissed by the Italian government. Meanwhile, Brera lent the piece for a 2004 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and included it in a 50-work show that traveled to the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science, Tallahassee.
Personally, I would think that a museum as prestigious as the Metropolitan might show more scruples in exhibiting such a contested artwork. After all, museums often make money by loaning out works in their collection, receiving a cut of ticket and merchandise sales. Financing an institution embroiled in such unsavory business looks, well, a bit awkward.
Morals aside, the Giuseppe family lawyer was quick-witted enough to alert American authorities to their claim on the painting, and the Brogan held the piece until it was seized by the government. Jeromack says it is highly likely that Christ Carrying the Cross will feature in Christie’s Important Old Masters Sale, scheduled for July 2012 in London. The value of the work? At least $1.2 million, and that’s a conservative estimate.
Such collections management issues of repatriation and restitution continue to be highly important – and delicate. We could talk about the looting of the Baghdad Museum – but that’s another story for another time.
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