16th Century Italian Pageant Shield, once Owned by Franz Ferdinand and Swiped by Nazis, Goes Home
Via the Philly:
The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Czech Republic’s National Heritage Institute jointly announced today an agreement whereby an important Italian pageant shield with decoration attributed to Girolamo di Tommaso da Treviso (Italian, 1497-1544) has now been confirmed as belonging to the Czech Republic and will be returned to the Czech Republic from Philadelphia, where it has been on display in the Museum’s Galleries of Arms and Armor since 1976 as part of the Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection. Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Naděžda Goryczková, the General Director of the National Heritage Institute, jointly announced the agreement in Philadelphia this morning, a step that reflects the spirit of cooperation that has guided all of the discussions between the museum and the Czech Republic about this work of art and has resulted in this mutually satisfactory resolution.
The shield was formerly in the collection of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose assassination in 1914 touched off World War I. The Archduke owned one of Europe’s preeminent collections of arms and armor, which was displayed at his country residence, Konopiště Castle, near Prague. When the former Habsburg imperial properties were redistributed after the war, the castle and its collections became the property of the government of the newly formed Czechoslovakia in 1919. In 1939 the Nazi government annexed the part of Czechoslovakia where Konopiště was located, and in 1943 the German army (Wehrmacht) confiscated the Konopiště Castle armor collection, including the shield, and took it to Prague to be housed in a new military museum. However, Adolf Hitler’s arms and armor curator, Leopold Ruprecht, soon skimmed off the cream of the collection, inventoried it, and dispatched it to Vienna, intending the best for Hitler’s planned mega-museum in Linz, Austria. At the end of the war, large groups of Konopiště objects were recovered by the Allies and returned to Czech authorities in 1946, but among 15 objects that remained missing was a shield whose description was similar to the pageant shield. Based on previously available documentation, the museum had been unable conclusively to identify the shield in its collection as one of the unrecovered objects from the Konopiště Castle armor collection.
Since 2016, the museum has been collaborating with historians in the Czech Republic to evaluate the history and provenance of the Italian pageant shield. Recent research identified pre-WWII inventories which, in tandem with a photograph, dated to around 1913, showing the museum’s shield as displayed at Konopiště Castle provided by the museum, persuasively identify the shield as the one illegally taken from Konopiště Castle by the Nazis and never restituted. Based on these revelations, the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art unanimously concluded that rightful title in the work belonged to the Czech Republic and approved the return of the armor at its meeting of June 17, 2021.
The elaborate painted decoration of the shield is attributed to Girolamo di Tommaso da Treviso (c. 1497-1544), based on a design by the painter Giulio Romano (Italian, 1492/99-1546). The shield was made about 1535 of wood, linen, gesso, gold, and pigment and is 24 inches in diameter. The scene depicted on its exterior shows the storming of New Carthage (209 BCE) in present-day Spain—an important episode of the Second Punic War (218 to 201 BCE) and a great victory of the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio (237–183 BCE). Originally intended purely for ceremonial purposes, the decoration suggests a historical parallel between Scipio’s military achievements, many of which occurred in Africa, and the victories of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (ruled 1519 to 1556), who was returning in 1535 from a successful military campaign against Muslim pirates in northern Africa. The shield was probably commissioned for one of the ceremonies that were being held throughout Italy to welcome Emperor Charles V in triumph.