Florida museum may have Nazi-looted art

09/13/2011

Federal officials recently ordered the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science in Tallahassee, Fla., not to return one of 50 paintings on loan from a museum in Italy because it is believed to have been stolen by Nazis during World War II.

US authorities are working with the Brogan and the Italian government to resolve questions of ownership amid claims the work had been stolen from a Jewish family in World War II, according to The Associated Press.

The work in question is a 473-year-old painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Girolamo Romano titled Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue.

It was part of the 50-piece exhibit, Baroque Painting in Lombardy from Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, which went up March 18 and was disassembled earlier this month.

It is believed that the Nazi-backed French Vichy government seized and sold the painting in question, along with more than 150 other works, in 1941 to pay off debts.

The work was purchased by Giuseppe Gentili on June 4, 1914, after it was put up for auction in Paris.

Gentili died in 1940 and his children fled to Canada, spending the duration of the war there and the US. Other family members, including Gentili’s sister, died in concentration camps. The surviving family now lives throughout Europe.

Gentili’s grandchildren have taken legal steps to find and reclaim works lost during the Nazi occupation. In 1999, an appeals court forced the Louvre to return five paintings to the Gentili family, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

The Brogan’s Chief Executive Officer Chucha Barber first learned that the painting may have been stolen by Nazis when she was contacted by Pamela Marsh, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, on July 21. Barber did not know how Marsh came to suspect the painting was tied to Nazi plunder, the Democrat reported.

Barber, working with a curator from the Pinacoteca museum, intends to put the Romano painting back on display as the Brogan continues a crucial fundraising campaign.

A little more than two months ago, the museum embarked on a five-month, $500,000 capital campaign needed to meet day-to-day expenses and payroll. The museum invested heavily to bring the Baroque exhibit to the Brogan.

“I see this as a teachable moment regarding the value of museums and museum objects,” Barber told the Tallahassee Democrat in an exclusive interview. “It’s also one family’s incredible story about the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

Barber did not know the appraised value for Romano’s painting, but said it was insured for about $2.5 million, according to the Democrat. A master appraiser from Christie’s in New York recently visited the Brogan to examine Christ Carrying the Cross, Barber said.

Untold millions of dollars’ worth of art, currency, jewelry, gold and other cultural artifacts were stolen by the Nazis throughout western Europe from 1933 to the end of World War II. Many objects have been recovered, and there are ongoing efforts to identify and return artworks such as the one at the Brogan.

Romano, also known as Girolamo Romani and simply Romanino, was an Italian High Renaissance artist who was born around 1485 and died around 1566.

(Above: Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue, by Girolamo Romano, c. 1538)

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