Cranach returned to Poland
August 8 2012
Picture: Art Newspaper
The Art Newspaper reports on one of the strangest restitution cases I've ever seen:
According to Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the painting was taken from the cathedral in Wroclaw, then known as Breslau and part of German territory, to protect it from Allied air raids. Cranach was known to be one of Hitler’s favourite artists and it is possible that it was ear marked for inclusion in the planned Führermuseum, Linz.
After the war, the picture was returned to the Diocesan Museum, Wroclaw rather than the war-damaged cathedral. It had been broken in two and officials decided to have it restored. Siegfried Zimmer, a German priest and amateur art collector and painter, was commissioned to take care of the restoration work, but he instead had a copied made between 1946 to 1947 and stole away to Berlin with the actual Cranach. The hoax was not uncovered until 1961, when a Polish conservator examined the picture and found it to be a modern copy. The original passed through private hands until it made its way to an unnamed Swiss collector who held it until his recent death, when it was left to the Diocese of St Gallen.
Update - a reader writes:
Surely the photo is of the forgery, or much overpainted if it's the original. The Madonna's face looks very 'South Pacific' and the whole thing is like those murals in Greek hotels when I was young.
The painting in the photo is certainly the one handed over to the Poles - see more photos here and a high-res here. But that would be a great way to steal a painting; persuade some faraway museum that they have a copy by inventing a tale of post-war duplicity, and then present them with the 'real' picture while you take away the copy. I feel a novel coming on...