A Commentary to International Conventions and European Union Law
Chapter 6: Evolution and Basic Trends
6.1 FACTS AND INDICATIONS Cultural property found in museums and private collections has been acquired through the years on the basis of different factual circumstances. Some of these were illegal or of an ambiguous/unethical nature. War, hostilities or occupation (which are not the subject of this book), penury, turbulent political circumstances, colonisation or a mixture of all, form some of those circumstances.1 In fact, they could be summarised as the result of power, oppression and necessity combined with an appetite for money or love of art or a habit of collecting. Theft, illegal export, import and transfer of ownership of cultural objects are also included. The states where most of this property has ended up are western states. The reason for that is that these states had the financial means to acquire such art, to build museums and house it as well as to allow world famous collectors to flourish. It was these same states that had established colonies and turned collecting into a noble pastime, clearly demonstrating wealth, prestige and superiority. After museums in the West had built up and were exhibiting their magnificent collections of artefacts, states of origin (some of them newly independent and trying to restore their assaulted dignity or create their national myths) requested the return of their objects, arguing that they were indispensable to their national identity – an identity over which they had fought wars. Museums and collectors (public or private) have tried to find an ideology that would legitimise these collections and permit...
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