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Keeping (C)up With Looted Art
By: Mackenzie Glachan
This object may look like your run of the mill ornate cup. Perhaps you’d walk right by it at a museum display. But what if I told you this cup possessed stories of forced sales, looting, and Nazis?
Beaker made by Hans Kellner, c. 1603-09, Nuremberg, Germany. Source.
The Cup in Question
Before we get there, let’s look at the cup itself. Also classified as a “beaker”, this cup c. 1603-1609 was created by Hans Kellner, a Nuremberg goldsmith. It was likely once part of a set of “stacking beakers”, and the two coats of arms suggest it was created for a marriage between the families of Löffelholtz von Colberg and Sitzinger. It is made of silver, which has been engraved and embossed, including designs of floral and monster motifs! Can you spot the monster?
What is really interesting about this cup is the many hands it has passed through. The cup is currently on loan from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection. But before the Gilberts acquired the cup in 1984, what was its story?
Looking at Provenance
The Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibit Concealed Histories: Uncovering the Story of Nazi Looting dug deep into the record of ownership or provenance of objects with suspicious pasts. When
provenance is absent between the approximate years of 1933-1945, there is cause to believe the item was looted during the Holocaust – most likely by Nazis.
Alfred Pringsheim (1850-1941). Source.
This cup, or one similar to it, was probably owned by Alfred Pringsheim, who was a Jewish mathematician and collector. Pringsheim had a considerable collection that included silver and gilded objects. Because of his wealth, status, and collection, Pringsheim became a target for Nazi persecution. Following the forced sale of his home to the Nazis, his collection was seized in 1938. A few years later he was able to flee to Switzerland, and he died there in 1941 at the age of 90. The V&A’s exhibit stated that the confiscated cup was given back to the Pringsheim family after the war.
This cup is just one story of looted art during the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler implemented the strategic looting and seizure of countless pieces of art (think in the millions). Researching the troubling history of Nazi-looted art and artifacts is critical to righting the wrongs of the past and acknowledging the true histories and
provenance of these objects. Without these acknowledgements, there is an erasure of Holocaust history.
The Importance of Revealing Holocaust History
Descendants of those targeted during the Holocaust have emotional connections to their ancestors and the items they treasured. Despite
existing laws and regulations in place, there is a lot of red tape which makes it difficult for some claimants to see art returned to their families. Research into art and object histories is worth doing. Filling in provenance records with historical research is a small way in which museums, galleries, and collections that own pieces with suspicious or missing provenance can offer truth and maybe even healing.
Seventh Army American soldiers reclaiming Nazi-looted paintings. Bettmann/Getty Images. Source.
I hope this post was interesting and informative! By shedding light on this issue, my aim has been to bring more awareness to the history and ongoing implications of art looting during the Holocaust. Remember to look at the provenance (record of ownership) for objects the next time you find yourself exploring a museum, whether virtually or in-person!
Further Reading and Resources:
Concealed Histories: Uncovering the Story of Nazi Looting
from the V&A Blog
About the Concealed Histories display
Produced as part of Concealed Histories: Uncovering the Story of Nazi Looting
Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert and their collection
The central registry of information on looted cultural property 1933-1945
A discussion of cases and legal issues by the Museum of Jewish Heritage
Bailey, Martin. “Who Owned These Jewish-Owned Treasures? V&A Seeks Clues from Public.” The Art Newspaper, December 2, 2019. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2019/12/02/who-owned-thesejewish-
Falconer, Kelly Ann. "When Honor Will Not Suffice: The Need for a Legally Binding International Agreement Regarding Ownership of Nazi-looted Art." University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law 21, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 383-426.
Hannabuss, K.C. “The Complex Life of Alfred Pringsheim.” The Mathematical Intelligencer 44 (September 2022): 215–224. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00283-021-10129-y.
Kaye, L. M. “Recovery of Art Looted during the Holocaust.” Cultural Heritage Issues: The Legacy of Conquest, Colonization, and Commerce, edited by J. A. R. Nafziger and A. M. Nicgorski. Leiden, NL: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2010, pp. 351-370.
Victoria and Albert Museum. “Beaker: Kellner, Hans.” Victoria and Albert Museum: Explore the Collections, June 18, 2008, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O156681/beaker-kellner-hans/,