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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