The Palladion was the earliest and perhaps the most important stolen statue in western literature.[2] The small carved wooden statue of an armed Athena served as Troy's protective talisman, which is said to have been stolen by two Greeks who secretly smuggled the statue out of the Temple of Athena. It was widely believed in antiquity that the conquest of Troy was only possible because the city had lost its protective talisman. This myth illustrates the sacramental significance of statuary in Ancient Greece as divine manifestations of the gods that symbolized power and were often believed to possess supernatural abilities. The sacred nature of the statues is further illustrated in the supposed suffering of the victorious Greeks afterward, including Odysseus, who was the mastermind behind the robbery.[2]

Australian Aboriginal cultural artefacts as well as people have been the objects of study in museums; many were taken in the decades either side of the turn of the 20th century. There has been greater success with returning human remains than cultural objects in recent years, as the question of repatriating objects is less straightforward than bringing home ancestors.[56] Australia has no laws directly governing repatriation, but there is a government programme relating to the return of Aboriginal remains and artefacts, the International Repatriation Program (IRP), administered by the Department of Communications and the Arts. This programme "supports the repatriation of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to their communities of origin to help promote healing and reconciliation" and assists community representatives work towards repatriation of remains in various ways.[57][58][59]
In rare cases, a repatriation is arranged so that a collector knowingly buys works identified as stolen to protect them from being further damaged or broken up. That happened in 1985, when the art collector Dominique de Menil bought some 13th-century Byzantine frescoes from a Turkish art dealer after the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and government officials there identified them as having been stolen.
Napoleon's extensive plunder of Italy was criticized by such French artists as Antoine-Chrysostôme Quatremère de Quincy (1755–1849), who circulated a petition that gathered the signatures of fifty other artists.[18] With the founding of the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1793, Napoleon's aim was to establish an encyclopedic exhibition of art history, which later both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler would attempt to emulate in their respective countries.[14]
According to Cuno, the logic whereby so-called source nations claim ownership of artifacts extracted from their territories is faulty, for such valuable relics of our human history really belong to a common, global cultural patrimony shared by all the world’s peoples—not only present-day Italians, but also all descendants of the Greeks and Romans the world over, as well as Turks, Chinese, Indians, and Africans. He contrasts the values of nation-states, which advocate strict “retentionist cultural property laws” and manipulate archaeological objects to advance questionable political agendas, with those of “encyclopedic museums,” cosmopolitan institutions like the Met and the British Museum, which seek to draw together diverse artifacts for the education and delectation of a global public.

In 1972, the Metropolitan Mu­seum of Art acquired, for the then-astounding price of $1 million, an exceptional artifact of Greek vase painting dating from the sixth century B.C. Executed in black glaze on red clay, the Euphronios Krater’s decoration depicts an episode from the Iliad in which the slain warrior Sarpedon, son of Zeus, is carried toward his homeland by the figures of Sleep and Death. Perhaps the most famous example of Attic red-figure painting known to the modern West, the vessel has offered millions of viewers a portal into the ancient world and a potent initiation into the mysteries of painting. Endlessly reproduced and carefully studied during its three decades on display in New York, the work has enlightened generations of Americans and visitors.
Napoleon continued his art conquests in 1798 when he invaded Egypt in an attempt to safeguard French trade interests and to undermine Britain's access to India via Egypt. His expedition in Egypt is noted for the 167 "savants" he took with him including scientists and other specialists equipped with tools for recording, surveying and documenting ancient and modern Egypt and its natural history.[19] Among other things, the expedition discoveries included the Rosetta Stone and the Valley of the Kings near Thebes. The French military campaign was short-lived and unsuccessful and the majority of the collected artifacts (including the Rosetta Stone) were seized by British troops, ending up in the British Museum. Nonetheless, the information gathered by the French expedition was soon after published in the several volumes of Description de l'Égypte, which included 837 copperplate engravings and over 3,000 drawings. In contrast to the disapproving public reaction to the looting of Italian works of art, the appropriation of Egyptian art saw widespread interest and fascination throughout Europe, inciting a phenomenon which came to be called "Egyptomania".[20]
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed in 1990, provides a process for museums and federal agencies to return certain cultural items such as human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, etc. to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organisations.[65][56] However, the legislation has its limitations and has been successfully contested both domestically and extraterritorially.[66]

A precedent for art repatriation was set in Roman antiquity when Cicero prosecuted Verres, a senate member and illegal appropriator of art. Cicero's speech influenced Enlightenment European thought and had an indirect impact on the modern debate about art repatriation.[21] Cicero's argument uses military episodes of plunder as "case law" and expresses certain standards when it comes to appropriating cultural property of another people.[22] Cicero makes a distinction between public and private uses of art and what is appropriate for each and he also asserts that the primary purpose of art is religious expression and veneration. He also sets standards for the responsibilities of imperial administration abroad to the code of ethics surrounding the collection of art from defeated Greece and Rome in wartime. Later, both Napoleon and Lord Elgin would be likened to Verres in condemnations of their plundering of art.[23]
"The government, the legitimate government of Greece gave permission for those to be taken at the time - now, it was a Turkish government of occupation, you could argue, but it was legally done," said Kimerly Rorsarch, director of the Seattle Art Museum and president of the Association of Art Museum Directors. "There's documentation, permission was given. They were openly removed, they weren't dug up out of the ground clandestinely. You know, how do you go back? I mean, throughout history, wars, disruption, things have changed hands in distressing ways."
Mrs. de Menil pledged to buy them — and return them to Cyprus in 20 years. The Menil Collection in Houston paid for the frescoes’ restoration, which took years. It built a bespoke minimalist space for them next to its Rothko Chapel and put them on display there in 1998. The museum had been hoping that Cyprus would extend the agreement and allow them to keep the works on view.
This is a worrying attitude. It indicates that Spain is willing to use direct rule for its own benefit, even if that means opposing the long-standing policies of the democratically elected government that has just been ousted and jailed under charges of tumultuous sedition. The case of the heritage of Sixena has a long history of legal disputes between the governments of Catalonia and Aragon.
The Hague Convention of 1907 aimed to forbid pillaging and sought to make wartime plunder the subject of legal proceedings, although in practice the defeated countries did not gain any leverage in their demands for repatriation.[7] The Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict took place in the wake of widespread destruction of cultural heritage in World War II is the first international treaty of a worldwide vocation focusing exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.
The restoration of monuments was often made in colonial states to make natives feel as if in their current state, they were no longer capable of greatness.[44] Furthermore, sometimes colonial rulers argued that the ancestors of the colonized people did not make the artifacts.[44] Some scholars also argue that European colonialists used monumental archaeology and tourism to appear as the guardian of the colonized, reinforcing unconscious and undetectable ownership.[44] Colonial rulers used peoples, religions, languages, artifacts, and monuments as source for reinforcing European nationalism, which was adopted and easily inherited from the colonial states.[44]
One such priority is surely money, which receives scant attention in Cuno’s argument. Most cultural properties are excavated from poor places and brought to richer ones, where they attract further economic bounty in the form of tourism. Why should such benefits accrue to New York rather than Cairo or Athens? Another value is archaeological preservation: the exceptions documented by Cuno notwithstanding, many source nations harbor a genuine interest in establishing or re-establishing historical and geographic contexts for lost objects. Surely archaeologists working in the field should be taken as authorities on the need for cooperation, not confrontation, with governments in these matters.
China, for example, while agitating for the return of cultural properties exported from its lands, has ignored the archaeological history of the Uighur minority within its borders and instead has collected and exhibited ancient objects that endorse the reigning Han Chinese. Meanwhile, Cuno asserts, China’s ostensible care for its material past is belied by the government’s failure to control the internal looting and sale of artifacts and by projects such as the Three Gorges Dam, which upon its completion will flood as many as 1,300 archaeological sites. Similarly, he argues, Greece’s calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain, where they have been located since the early 19th century, are born of nationalist greed: Greek authorities want the marbles back not in the interests of archaeological consistency, but in order to confer ancient legitimacy on their modern government. The objects are co-opted as a “political symbol of the new Greece . . . said to belong to Greece and to hold within them the very spirit of its people.”
Museums furnished by colonial looting have largely shaped the way a nation imagines its dominion, the nature of the human beings under its power, the geography of the land, and the legitimacy of its ancestors, working to suggest a process of political inheriting.[41] It is necessary to understand the paradoxical way in which the objects on display at museums are tangible reminders of the power held by those who gaze at them.[42] Eliot Colla describes the structure of the Egyptian sculpture room in the British Museum as an assemblage that "form[s] an abstract image of the globe with London at the center".[43] The British Museum, as Colla describes, presents a lesson of human development and progress: "the forward march of human civilization from its classical origins in Greece and Rome, through Renaissance Italy, to modern-day London".[43]

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed in 1990, provides a process for museums and federal agencies to return certain cultural items such as human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, etc. to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organisations.[65][56] However, the legislation has its limitations and has been successfully contested both domestically and extraterritorially.[66]


Some argue that in colonized states, nationalist archaeology was used to resist colonialism and racism under the guise of evolution.[47] While it is true that both colonialist and nationalist discourse use the artifact to form mechanisms to sustain their contending political agendas, there is a danger in viewing them interchangeably since the latter was a reaction and form of resistance to the former. On the other hand, it is important to realize that in the process of emulating the mechanisms of colonial discourse, the nationalist discourse produced new forms of power. In the case of the Egyptian nationalist movement, the new form of power and meaning that surrounded the artifact furthered the Egyptian independence cause but continued to oppress the rural Egyptian population.[46]
Museums furnished by colonial looting have largely shaped the way a nation imagines its dominion, the nature of the human beings under its power, the geography of the land, and the legitimacy of its ancestors, working to suggest a process of political inheriting.[41] It is necessary to understand the paradoxical way in which the objects on display at museums are tangible reminders of the power held by those who gaze at them.[42] Eliot Colla describes the structure of the Egyptian sculpture room in the British Museum as an assemblage that "form[s] an abstract image of the globe with London at the center".[43] The British Museum, as Colla describes, presents a lesson of human development and progress: "the forward march of human civilization from its classical origins in Greece and Rome, through Renaissance Italy, to modern-day London".[43]
When she was first offered the works, depicting Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin Mary with the Christ child surrounded by the archangels Michael and Gabriel, Mrs. de Menil was skeptical about their provenance. She quietly approached the Church of Cyprus, which said the frescoes had been secreted out of the apse and the dome of the church of St. Euphemianos in Lyssi, in a part of Cyprus that had been annexed by Turkey in 1974.
Repatriation is the return of art or cultural heritage, often referring to ancient or looted art, to their country of origin or former owners (or their heirs). The disputed cultural property items are physical artifacts of a group or society that were taken from another group usually in an act of looting, whether in the context of imperialism, colonialism or war. The contested objects vary widely and include sculptures, paintings, monuments, objects such as tools or weapons for purposes of anthropological study, and human remains.
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