Italy Recovers Three Paintings Seized By Nazis in World War II

Three 15th century paintings which were seized during World War II from an Italian-Luxembourg noble family have been recovered by the Italian authorities.

The paintings were unveiled on April 18th at the Brera Art Gallery in the Italian city of Milan. All three paintings are by little-known artists.

The works were seized from the Bourbon-Parma family after Italy entered World War II. Luxembourg was occupied and annexed by Germany during the war, leaving the valuable property of noble families vulnerable to looting. Many of the Borbone-Parma family’s treasures were recovered by the U.S. military after the war, but these paintings weren’t among them.

The Borbone-Parma family were related to the Bourbon family, ancestors of many kings and queens of European countries. The family had been the hereditary rulers of the Duchy of Parma for over three hundred years, until Italian Unification.

The family had lost much of its power and wealth during the wars of unification in Italy but remained splendidly rich. The family was also related to the rulers of the Duchy of Luxembourg, and so they were dual citizens of both Italy and Luxembourg.

The Carabinieri state police unit charged with protecting cultural heritage recently traced the works to two families in Milan. How the works of art came into their possession is not known, but investigations are continuing. The paintings have not yet been valued, but their condition is delicate and it is believed that they will require expert restoration work. They are in state custody in Italy.

If nobody comes forward to claim the paintings, they will remain in the possession of the Italian state indefinitely. If any living descendants of the family come forward to claim the works they will need to prove that they are the rightful heirs. If they can do this then they are entitled to claim the paintings, which are believed to be extremely valuable due to their age, and the rarity of the artists.

If no heirs come forward then it seems likely that they will revert to the Italian state, which is a long-established legal precedent. However, the current Dukes of Luxembourg may attempt to claim the pictures, on the grounds that they are distantly related to the family.

The issue of works of art seized during the war has never been fully resolved. Many Jewish victims of the Holocaust had all their goods taken from them by the Germans. It is believed that there are still many missing masterpieces and artworks in Europe that belong to the heirs of those killed in the Holocaust. These three paintings which have just been recovered are part of a collection of forty, the rest of which remain unaccounted for.

The paintings are currently housed in the Pinacoteca di Brera art museum in Milan, where they will remain unless a claimant comes forward.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE