Looted Dutch still-life to be returned to Florence after 75 years

Looted Dutch still-life to be returned to Florence after 75 years

A celebrated still-life by an 18th-century Dutch master looted by Nazi forces during the Second World War will be returned to Florence, the Italian authorities said.

Vase of Flowers by Jan van Huysum, estimated to be worth millions, originally went on display in Florence in 1824 after it was bought by Grande Duke Leopoldo II. It was evacuated to a village near Florence when Italy joined the war in 1940.

The painting was taken in 1943 as the Nazi forces retreated north through Tuscany following the Allied landings at Anzio and the fall of Rome.

The Germans took the painting to a castle in Bolzano in northern Italy, the capital of the German-speaking region of South Tyrol. It then resurfaced in a family collection following German reunification in 1991.

Its return follows a long dispute with the unidentified descendants of the German soldier, who had reportedly demanded up to €2 million for the oil painting. It is unclear if the family will receive any cash.

“At long last [it] comes home after 75 years. The battle was tough, today is a great victory for the whole of Italy,” said Dr Eike Schmidt of Italy’s Uffizi Gallery.

Schmidt, a German, said his ethnic homeland had a “moral duty” to give it back.

The German government had previously claimed it could not intervene in the matter and government lawyers are believed to have claimed the painting was not looted as part of organised requisitioning but was taken by an individual soldier.

It meant the soldier could not be seen as its owner or hand it down to his family, according to Die Zeit.

The newspaper reported that lawyers for the soldier’s family had assumed that the painting was not wartime loot, arguing that the soldier bought it at a market to send to his wife after their home was bombed.

The German authorities had also said the statute of limitations on crimes more than 30 years old prevented it from intervening.

To raise the issue’s profile, a black and white photo of the painting has been hanging in the Uffizi with the word “stolen” in English, German and Italian.

After Schmidt’s public demand for the painting’s return, the Berlin authorities contacted the family who hold it.

Schmidt has called on Germany to abolish the statute of limitations on Nazi loot so art could be returned to its “legitimate owners”.

Germany said Heiko Maas, the foreign minister, and his Italian counterpart, Enzo Moavero, would travel to Florence to hand the painting back.

The bloody liberation of Italy left many scars. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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