Provenance Research and Issues of Ownership

The Foundation thoroughly investigates the provenance – that is, the origins – of the objects in its collections. This includes scholarly questions as well as clarifying questions of ownership.

Questions of ownership can be clarified using the results of provenance research. Often such questions arise in relationship to works that entered the collections in the years following 1933. On principle, the Foundation takes the attitude that it does not wish to keep objects in its collections that were not acquired legally.

The Foundation’s museums, libraries, and archives have also lost parts of their property in the past. That was primarily a result of the Second World War. Provenance research also plays an important role when objects are acquired. The Foundation takes care that the origins of such objects are thoroughly documented. Archaeological cultural assets are therefore all but impossible to acquire now, as they are often traded illegally.

Dossier: The Guelph Treasure

Domed Reliquary of the Guelph Treasure
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Fabian Fröhlich

The Guelph Treasure is one of the most important collections of medieval ecclesiastical art. It was the subject of a restitution claim that the Limbach Commission denied in 2014. In 2015, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. that SPK believes has no merit. more

Researching and Documenting Provenance

Akte des Zentralarchivs der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin
The goal of provenance research is to clarify the origins of objects. It is a cross-disciplinary task for all the Foundation’s institutions. In several research projects, determining provenance is the sole task. more

Issues of Ownership

Zeichnung „Olivenbäume vor dem Alpillengebirge“ von Vincent van Gogh
© bpk / Jörg P. Anders

Over the course of history, objects have found their way into the Foundation’s holdings whose origins have not been completely clarified. The Foundation aims to establish who owns these objects. more

Wartime Losses of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz

Historische Aufnahme des Wiederaufbaus des Pergamonaltars im Pergamonmuseum
© bpk / Herbert Hensky

The Second World War resulted in great losses to the Prussian collections. Much was destroyed. Many of the holdings that had been displaced for their protection did not return to the collections, for various reasons. more

Protecting Cultural Assets

Luftaufnahme einer geplünderten Grabungsstätte, im Boden sind zahlreiche Löcher zu sehen
© Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale

Archaeological objects are profoundly threatened by illegal excavations and trade. The Foundation advocates further legal regulations for the export and trade of such cultural assets. This includes documenting their provenance. more