Showing posts with label cultural diplomacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cultural diplomacy. Show all posts

July 16, 2020

When a church loses its Madonna can cultural diplomacy help her find her way back home?

On 9 July 1985 the Parish Church of San Felice Martire, located in S. Felice a Cancello, Italy suffered a horrendous loss.  Their gilded wooden statue, depicting the Madonna covered with a golden mantle and with the royal diadem on her head, holding the baby Jesus who is giving a blessing, was stolen.  Then in the copy put in her place was also stolen.

The original fourteenth-century ecclesiastical treasure, venerated by the Sanfelicians, soon found its way into the international underground and was smuggled out of Italy.  A short while later, in 1988 it popped up on the German art market. Yet, like thousands of other stolen Italian treasures, retrieving stolen art in Germany is no easy task, especially once that artwork has been laundered into the hands of a private individual as the country's laws try to balance the interests of the victim of theft of art and the interests of the good-faith acquirer.

Despite international letters rogatory, Italy's claim was rejected as inadmissible by the German authorities and, in 2000, Interpol Wiesbaden confirmed to the Italians that the current holder had bought the work in good faith, closing the door to the possibility of restitution.

According to the B├╝rgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated BGB, which is the civil code of Germany § 935 there is no good-faith acquisition of title for stolen bewegliche cache ("movable property") as the owner (in this case the church) has not parted with his direct possession deliberately, so that the third person (thief) shall not have the benefit of the appearance of entitlement through possession under such circumstances.  However, anyone who acquires said property in good faith and has maintained this work in his or her possession for at least 10 years, while continuing to be in good faith, automatically acquires valid title. 

Likewise in Germany if the thief, upon his or her death was not in good faith but his heirs "inherit" the stolen property unknowingly and in good faith, the heir also can also acquire legal title after 10 years from the point of inheritance.  Legal title of a stolen work of art can also transfer to the good-faith acquirer if the work of art is sold in public auction (section 935(2), CC).

All this to say that the push by Italy's parliamentarians Margherita Corrado, Vilma Moronese, Luisa Angrisani, Danila De Lucia, Bianca Laura Granato, Vincenzo Presutto and Orietta Vanin made in April to Dario Franceschini,  Italy's Minister for Cultural Goods and Activities and Tourism (MiBact), encouraging him to engage directly with Monika Gr├╝tters, Germany's Commissioner for Culture and the Media, to honor the request of the patrons of church of San Felice Martyr,  is, for now, purely an exercise in cultural diplomacy.  Whether or not this soft parliamentary request will go farther than the transnational judicial one did remains to be seen.