Monday, March 10, 2008

Cultural Property Dispute Between Sweden and ...

Amidst all of the earth-shaking news about the governor of New York, it's easy to miss this: today's New York Times brings news of a dispute over 350 year old spoils of war captured by Sweden from Denmark--but in a twist of fate, that section of Denmark is now part of Sweden.  The story begins:

It’s hard to find anyplace in Europe today, even here in peaceable Sweden, where people aren’t squabbling over cultural property and the spoils of war. For some time, it turns out, a handful of nationalist Danes have been loudly barking about booty that the Swedes nabbed 350 years ago in a war with Denmark. The cache includes an ornate canopy from Kronborg Castle, of Hamlet lore, and recently people in Skane, a region in the south of Sweden that was ceded by Denmark in 1658 after losing the war, said they wanted the canopy handed over.

[I]nto the 18th century, as the show recounts, Sweden stocked its libraries and museums and churches with stolen arms, books, altarpieces, textiles and art by painters like Titian and Tintoretto, Dürer and Archimboldo. Much of this loot was pinched from Poland and Lithuania. The show argues that this was the custom of the day and that the best thing now is simply to lay everything on the table for all the world to see. But the clock can’t be turned back.

Not until the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (notice how that date falls after Sweden’s empire collapsed, a happy coincidence, no doubt) did countries in Europe generally agree that taking booty was a war crime. So there’s a cut-off date, a legal line in the sand.

Lot to talk about here.


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I'd be interested in seeing more of these posts on this blog. This area of the law, so-called Art Law, is beginning to become extremely important, yet is still very nichy from a professional practice viewpoint. Few law school programs offer any substantive course work in the field, yet as you are well aware it is bursting at the seems with all the property theoretic (and practical) issues. The two most recent and probably most easily understood examples of the repatriation arguments concern the seemingly incessant parade of Nazi looted Jewish-owned art, and the ubiquitous bric a brac sitting in museums the world over with the country of origin screaming for their return (See the recent Italian/Greek tete a tete).

Posted by: Sam Gompers | Mar 19, 2008 6:53:10 AM

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