Renaissance shield with post-World War life returns to Europe

The Philadelphia Museum of Art announced Monday that it will return a ceremonial shield to the Czech Republic after researchers determin...


The Philadelphia Museum of Art announced Monday that it will return a ceremonial shield to the Czech Republic after researchers determined it was part of a collection that once belonged to Archduke Franz Ferdinand and which was later confiscated by the Nazis after annexing Czechoslovakia during WWII.

This will be the last trip for a shield which was created by an Italian artist during the Renaissance, and which had unusual post-war life centuries later. Ultimately it ended up in a bequest at the Philadelphia Museum, where it was exhibited in the Weapons and Armor Galleries from 1976 as part of the Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection.

The museum has been working with historians in the Czech Republic since 2016 to assess the history and provenance of the shield, officials said in a press release.

“After many decades, a remarkable piece of Italian Renaissance art, historically belonging to the Este collection of Konopiste Castle, returns to the Czech Republic,” said Nadezda Goryczkova, director of the National Heritage Institute of the Czech Republic, in a statement. . “We are pleased.” The agreement to return the artefact was made jointly by the museum and the National Heritage Institute, which promised to consider any future loan requests for the museum’s shield.

In Philadelphia, Timothy Rub, director and CEO of the museum, said in a statement Monday: “A work that was lost during the troubles of World War II has fortunately been returned, and out of this has arisen an exceptional scientific partnership. . “

Experts say the shield, which was attributed to artist Girolamo di Tommaso da Treviso, was likely commissioned for one of the many ceremonies held across Italy in the 1500s to welcome the Germanic Roman Emperor Charles V after military campaigns in North Africa. The shield was made circa 1535 of wood, linen, gesso, gold, and pigment and measures 24 inches in diameter. The scene depicted on the surface of the disc shows the capture of New Carthage (in what is now Spain) by Roman soldiers, they said. This motif of an ancient military victory can be seen as a parallel to the conquests of Charles V.

Historians have determined that the shield once belonged to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose assassination by a Serbian nationalist in 1914 to release First World War.

The Archduke had an impressive collection of weapons and armor, which he displayed in his country residence, Konopiste Castle, near Prague. After the First World War, the castle and its collections became the property of the new government of Czechoslovakia. But in 1939, Germany annexed the region that included Konopiste, and four years later the Nazis confiscated the castle’s collection of armor, curators said.

The museum said in a statement that Leopold Ruprecht, who was Hitler’s curator of arms and armor, had finally assembled the best pieces in the collection and sent them to Vienna, with the intention that they end up in a planned museum in Linz, Austria. When the artifacts were returned to Czechoslovakia after WWII, 15 objects were missing.

One of them was this richly decorated shield, made around 1535 for ceremonial purposes. The shield was identified through pre-WWII art inventories and a photograph – dated around 1913 – that showed it on display at Konopiste Castle, museum officials said.

The shield is one of the many works of art seized by the Nazis. The provenance of certain pieces, many of which were taken from Jewish families, remains a subject of controversy today, as heirs sought to collect objects museums or private collectors. In some cases, these efforts have resulted in lawsuits on works said to be worth millions of dollars.

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