Handbook on the Economics of Cultural Heritage
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Handbook on the Economics of Cultural Heritage

Edited by Ilde Rizzo and Anna Mignosa

Cultural heritage is a complex and elusive concept, constantly evolving through time, and combining cultural, aesthetic, symbolic, spiritual, historical and economic values. The Handbook on the Economics of Cultural Heritage outlines the contribution of economics to the design and analysis of cultural heritage policies and to addressing issues related to the conservation, management and enhancement of heritage.
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Chapter 7: Issues in the international market for cultural heritage

Victor Ginsburgh and François Mairesse


Transactions of artworks and heritage are as old as markets themselves. Flintstones extracted in Baltic, Polish or Hungarian quarries have been discovered in French prehistoric sites and caves from the Magdalenian era (18 000 to 10 000 BC). Mediterranean shells have been found in Russia, amber from the North and the Baltic Sea was discovered in Delphi and in Tutankhamun’s tomb. And so were other hand-made artifacts, such as jewels and small sculptures. International exchanges of artifacts are, in general, not questioned, but there are some cases where they do seem unacceptable, and are not accepted. For an exchange to be ‘perfect’, it should be agreeable to both parties. The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has some of the best paintings by Brueghel that were legally acquired by Archduke Leopold, brother of the Emperor of Austria Ferdinand II. One can be sorry that they do not hang in Brussels or Antwerp, but nobody ever raised an eyebrow. It took time for paintings that were ‘bought’ by Nazi dignitaries in the 1940s to be returned to the heirs of their original owners, but one feels this to be reasonable. Some objects that deal with the ‘invisible’ or the ritual and are carefully preserved and transmitted from one generation to the next are now also slowly but surely given back to the tribes that were, rightly or wrongly, stripped. The consequences of colonization or the actions of not always fully trustworthy archaeologists are more difficult to absolve and will probably never fully be.

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