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Philadelphia Museum of Art returns silver trophy that vanished from Dresden during WWII

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 6/30/2022 Stephan Salisbury, The Philadelphia Inquirer

For the second time in less than a year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has reached an agreement to return a treasured cultural artifact to its historic home in Europe.

A 17th-century silver “archer’s trophy” came to the museum as part of the famed Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of arms and armor in 1976. The trophy — actually an ornamental shield — had been fashioned in 1619 and bestowed by Dresden on Johann George I, duke of Saxony, in honor of his triumph in the annual shooting of the popinjay competition the previous year.

The unusual trophy is engraved with the duke’s coat of arms surrounded by a list of his titles and a description of his triumph in the annual popinjay shoot.

Last September, the museum announced that it would be repatriating a 16th-century ceremonial shield — also part of the arms and armor collection — which had been stolen by Nazis during World War II from what was then Czechoslovakia.

Both instances, first involving the Czech Republic and now Dresden, underscore the ongoing difficulties posed by repatriation of artifacts and artworks missing as a result of World War II, museum officials said. In both instances, research by the museum highlighted concerns about the origins of the two artifacts in its collection.

Timothy Rub, former director of the Art Museum, commended “our thoughtful scholarship” that eventually led to the return of the trophy to Dresden.

“Although it had been purchased in the 1950s in good faith and later donated to the museum, this object rightfully belongs to Dresden, as it has become compellingly clear that it had been part of the city’s silver treasure and went missing in 1945. Our thanks to our former curator Dirk Breiding, whose close study identified the issue, and to our wonderful colleagues in Dresden.”


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The trophy will go on display in Dresden for the first time in nearly 80 years on Saturday.

The trophy is representative of a centuries-old tradition of a Dresden bird-shooting competition. As early as 1440, a shooting match was held in Dresden at Whitsun, from which a folk festival with bird shooting organized by the city council developed in the second half of the 16th century.

By 1888, the duke’s archer’s trophy had become part of the Dresden city collections and the city council treasury. It vanished, along with the rest of the city’s silver treasure, from the basement of City Hall, around the time of the Dresden bombing in 1945.

In 1956 the trophy surfaced on the European art market. Kienbusch, the collector, bought it and bequeathed it to the Art Museum with the rest of his collection in 1976.

Dirk Breiding, the former museum curator, who was preparing a catalog of the museum’s arms and armor collection in 2016, found a search notice for the trophy in an online registry of missing cultural objects, the German Lost Art Database, which the Stadtmuseum Dresden had published four years earlier.

The onset of the pandemic prevented an earlier repatriation.

Dresden Mayor Dirk Hilbert, in a statement, called reception of the trophy after so long an absence “a very special privilege.”

He said, “I would like to thank all those involved for their extraordinary commitment and am delighted for the people of Dresden that this treasure will be on display in the Dresden City Museum from Saturday, July 2.”

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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