Méndez de Vigo has instructed the Department of Culture of the Catalan government, now under his leadership, to obey a provisional judicial order that dictates the return of the objects to their former location in Aragon, Catalonia’s neighboring region. Even though this judicial order could still be disputed, the minister demands its immediate implementation.
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.
Stereotypes persist when discussing Native American arts and cultures, and sadly many people remain unaware of the complicated and fascinating histories of Native peoples and their art. Too many people still imagine a warrior or chief on horseback wearing a feathered headdress, or a beautiful young “princess” in an animal hide dress (what we now call the Indian Princess). Popular culture and movies perpetuate these images, and homogenize the incredible diversity of Native groups across North America. There are too many different languages, cultural traditions, cosmologies, and ritual practices to adequately make broad statements about the cultures and arts of the indigenous peoples of what is now the United States and Canada.
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.
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.
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.

"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."
Some scholars[who?] argue that archaeology can be a positive source of pride in cultural traditions, but can also be abused to justify cultural or racial superiority as the Nazis argued that Germanic people of Northern Europe was a distinct race and cradle of Western civilization that was superior to Jewish race.[citation needed] In some conflicts that involve land ownership, archaeology is used to encourage confrontation by means of constructing of national myth as seen with the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel.[48] In other cases, archaeology allows rulers to justify the domination of neighboring peoples as Saddam Hussein used Mesopotamia's magnificent past to justify his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.[49]
One significant step that has been taken to correct some of this colonial legacy has been NAGPRA, or the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1992. This is a U.S. federal law that dictates that “human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony, referred to collectively in the statute as cultural items” be returned to tribes if they can demonstrate “lineal descent or cultural affiliation.” Many museums in the U.S. have been actively trying to repatriate items and human remains. For example, in 2011, a museum returned a wooden box drum, a hide robe, wooden masks, a headdress, a rattle, and a pipe to the Tlingít T’akdeintaan Clan of Hoonah, Alaska. These objects were purchased in 1924 for $500.
From early on, the field of archaeology was deeply involved in political endeavors and in the construction of national identities. This early relationship can be seen during the Renaissance and the proto-Italian reactions against the High Gothic movement, but the relationship became stronger during 19th century Europe when archaeology became institutionalized as a field of study furnished by artifacts acquired during the rise of European colonialism led by the British and French.[37] Colonialism and the field of archaeology mutually supported one another as the need to acquire knowledge of ancient artifacts justified further colonial dominance.
In order to be legally classified as an indigenous person in the United States and Canada, an individual must be officially listed as belonging to a specific tribe or band. This issue of identity is obviously a sensitive one, and serves as a reminder of the continuing impact of colonial policy. Many contemporary artists, including James Luna (Pooyukitchum/Luiseño) and Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith (from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation), address the problem of who gets to decide who or what an Indian is in their work.
Luna’s Artifact Piece (1987) and Take a Picture with a Real Indian (1993) both confront issues of identity and stereotypes of Native peoples. In Artifact Piece, Luna placed himself into a glass vitrine (like the ones we often see in museums) as if he were a static artifact, a relic of the past, accompanied by personal items like pictures of his family. In Take a Picture with a Real Indian, Luna asks his audience to come take a picture with him. He changes clothes three times. He wears a loincloth, then a loincloth with a feather and a bone breastplate, and then what we might call “street clothes.” Most people choose to take a picture with him in the former two, and so Luna draws attention to the problematic idea that somehow he is less authentically Native when dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.
Art was repatriated for the first time in modern history when Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington overturned art plundered by Napoleon to Italy after his and Marshal Blücher's armies defeated the French at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.[20] This decision contrasted sharply to a long-held tradition to the effect that "to the victors go the spoils."[20] This is remarkable considering that in the battle of Waterloo alone, the financial and human costs were colossal; the decision to not only refrain from plundering France but to repatriate France's prior seizures from the Netherlands, Italy, Prussia, and Spain, was extraordinary.[24] Moreover, the British paid for the restitution of the papal collection to Rome because the Pope could not finance the shipping himself.[25] When British troops began packing up looted art from the Louvre, there was a public outcry in France. Crowds reportedly tried to prevent the taking of the Horses of Saint Mark and there were throngs of weeping ladies outside the Louvre Museum.[26] Despite the unprecedented nature of this repatriation effort, there are recent estimations that only about 55 percent of what was taken was actually repatriated: the Louvre Director at the time, Vivant Denon, had sent out many important works to other parts of France before the British could take them.[27] Wellington viewed himself as representing all of Europe's nations and he believed that the moral decision would be to restore the art in its apparently proper context.[28] In a letter to Lord Castlereagh he wrote:
×