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Friend & Fiend

The photograph of a historic oil painting is hanging on a wall at the Uffizi Gallery of Florence Museum in Italy. It looks like the black-and- white image of the original painting. However, the word ‘Stolen!’ in English, German and Italian is pasted on the frame!
While leaving the Italian city during the final phase of the WWII in 1943, the Nazis took the famous ‘Vase of Flowers’ by Dutch still-life painter Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) with them to a castle in Bolzano in northern Italy. Bolzano was the capital of the German-speaking region of South Tyrol. Later, they took it to Germany. The masterpiece – created in 1722 – was found in 1991 after the fall of Berlin Wall (or the Unification of Germany). Since then, the Italian government has been trying to bring the stolen artwork back to the country. The Uffizi Gallery recently asked the German government to return the painting as soon as possible.

Vase of Flowers

The museum’s German Director Dr Eike Schmidt said: “We wish that the famous ‘Vase of Flowers’ by Dutch painter Jan van Huysum that was stolen by Nazi soldiers be returned to the Uffizi Gallery.” At the same time, he said that the 47x35cm painting, “currently held by a German family who, after all this time, has still not returned it to the museum despite many requests by the Italian state”.
Meanwhile, the Angela Merkel government in Berlin said that it would not be possible for Germany to return the artwork to Italy because of the country’s existing law. As per the German law, the government should not interfere in such case 30 years after the crime was committed! However, Dr Schmidt rubbished the argument, stressing: “Germany should abolish the statute of limitations for works stolen during the conflict and ensure they can be returned to their rightful owners.” He further said that until this one is returned, “the wounds of the WWII and Nazi terror will not be healed”.

According to sources close to the gallery, the painting reached Florence in 1824, a century after its creation. Most probably, Leopold II – the Grand Duke of Tuscany – brought the painting to Florence. When Italy got involved in the WWII in 1940, the government hid some famous artworks – including the Vase of Flowers – in a nearby village. Later, the Nazi soldiers took those to Germany.
Some intermediaries recently informed the Uffizi Gallery that they were ready to bring those paintings back to Italy. However, the gallery authorities rejected the proposal, saying that they would not pay a single penny to the intermediaries. “The painting is already the inalienable property of the Italian State and, thus, cannot be ‘bought’. Germany has a moral duty to return this painting to our museum and I trust that the German government will do so at the earliest opportunity, naturally along with every other work of art stolen by the Nazi Wehrmacht,” insisted Dr Schmidt.

It is to be noted that Germany and Italy were integral part of the Axis power during the WWII…

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