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Donatello in the Berlin Museums

2 November 2015
San Francesco - Via della Quarquonia 1 (Classroom 2 )
This seminar will describe one of the most banal occupations of a museum employee: cataloguing a collection. The collection in question being the one of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the artist at the center of the catalogue being Donatello, the interest is suddenly not the same: going through the storages, the archives, the art historical literature but also the permanent exhibition rooms of the Bode-Museum (and some museums abroad), this research becomes, all of a sudden, a gold mine in a field often reputed not to be anymore suited for a “positivistic” study. Even more than new material, and new attributions, the collection of the works of Donatello in Berlin traces a singular portrait not only of the greatest sculptor of the 15th century, but also of the city of Berlin itself during the last two centuries. In 2008, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem organized an exhibition called “Looking for Owners: Custody, Research, and Restitution of Art Stolen in France during World War II”. It reassessed what has been a global consensus since WWII: to give back to the families (mostly Jewish) the works of art that were seized during the Nazi regime. Almost three quarters of a century after the beginnings of this noble task, one question arises as times go by: should this quest for owners be transmitted indefinitely, as is the case for now? As a consequence, should this imprescriptibility apply to works that were stolen in a more remote past – as, for instance, during the Napoleonic campaigns in Italy? The link with the preceding seminar will be made taking the point of view of the Berlin Museums, at the heart of the Nazi-power between 1933 and 1945, but who also suffered massive plundering at the end of WWII – including a few works by Donatello himself.
Rowley, Neville