February 9, 2014

Judge Arthur Tompkins returns to teach "Art in War" for ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

In 2014 Judge Arthur Tompkins will be teaching his Art in War course for the 5th consecutive year. Judge Tompkins began his work with ARCA back in 2009 when he traveled to Amelia for the first of a two-part presentation at the International Art Crime Conference to discuss a possible pathway to creating an International Art Crime Tribunal. In 2010, as well as presenting the second part of his proposal to the conference Judge Tompkins first taught his Art in War course. This year his course will run from June 30-July 2 and July 7-July 9

Judge Tompkins has been a District Court Judge in New Zealand for 17 years. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in Law from Canterbury University, in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1983, and subsequently graduated Masters in Law, with First Class Honours, from Cambridge University, England, in 1984. Over the years he has taught the Law of Evidence, and presented at numerous conferences and workshops on a variety of topics, including expert evidence, the intersect between law and science in the Courtroom, and most extensively in relation to forensic DNA and forensic DNA Databanks, in New Zealand, China, England, Ireland, France and Mauritius. He is an Honorary Member of Interpol’s DNA Monitoring Expert Group. This year he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Pitcairn Island.

What makes your course relevant in the study of art crime?

Art has always suffered in times of war – right down through all the many centuries from the first recorded instance of plundering of art during wartime – the taking of the Stele of Hammurabi by the Elamites from Babylon to Susa in the 12th century BCE - to the disastrous shelling of the Crac des Chevaliers in the ongoing Syrian conflict. And the crimes against art committed during wartime span the full spectrum from the vast, organised and systematic plundering of art by Napoleon and the Nazis, to the opportunistic ‘souveniring’ of art by individual soldiers amid the chaos of the battlefield, and everything in between. How societies have sought to prevent to lessen such crimes, and to provide some degree of redress, in the past provides valuable insight and guidance as to what might be done in the future.

What will be the focus in your course?

The first half of the course covers a historical survey of art crimes during war. We start with Classical Antiquity, including the sack of Corinth by the Romans, then jump forward to the Fourth Crusade and the pillaging of Constantinople. From there we move forward a few centuries again, to the Thirty Years’ War, and from there to Napoleonic France.

On Day Two, we start with the First World War, move through the Second World War, and end with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, (and this sounds much more daunting than it actually is when we do it) we cover over 2000 years in two days …!

The half day that ends the first part of the course is devoted to Libraries – including the libraries at Alexandria, the Library of the Palatinate, the Bosnian National Library, and the US’s Library of Congress. I am hopeful that this year there will also be a guest presentation by one of ARCA’s alumni on another fascinating library’s history.

The second half of the course concentrates on the legal response to what has happened over the centuries. We look at a variety of public international and private legal responses, including the Laws of War, the various Conventions aimed at protecting art and cultural heritage, non-binding international agreements and the like, and then issues arising from private claims to recover looted or stolen art. We end the course with a look at other forms of possible redress, and some selected student presentations to the class.

Do you have a recommended reading list that students can read before the course?

I recommend that students read the classic work of scholarship in this area, Lynn Nicholas’ The Rape of Europa, and also either or both of Robert Edsel’s books on the Monuments’ Men. And this year in particular, I would also suggest they go see the George Clooney/Cate Blanchett movie, ‘The Monuments Men’. How Cate Blanchett portrays one of my personal heroes of the fight against art crime in war, Rose Valland, I will be fascinated to see!

I would also recommend, as a way of reading themselves into the historical ambience of a couple of parts of the course, Geraldine Brook’s People of the Book, and Sara Houghteling’s Pictures at an Exhibition, are both fictionalised accounts of events we cover in the course.

Finally, and these are three personal favourites relating to various aspects of the course, I would point folk to Baez’s A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, Freeman’s The Horses of St Marks: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice, and O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

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