Italy asks Germany to return painting looted in World War II

Florence: Italy’s Uffizi Galleries has called on Germany to return a still-life painting by the Dutch master Jan van Huysum, which was looted by retreating Nazi troops in World War II.

“Germany has a moral duty to return this painting to our museum,” said Uffizi chief Eike Schmidt, who is himself German. “This story is preventing the wounds inflicted by World War Two and the horrors of Nazism from healing.”

The “Vase of Flowers” painting, worth millions of dollars, was originally put on display in Florence in 1824 after it was bought by Grande Duke Leopoldo II for his art collection.

The oil canvas hung in the city’s Pitti Palace until 1940, when it was evacuated to a nearby village following the outbreak of World War Two. Three years later it was seized by German troops and eventually taken to Germany where it only resurfaced following German reunification in 1991 in the hands of a family.

Intermediaries have demanded payment for its return, which the Uffizi is refusing. All efforts to get it back via legal channels have failed, with Germany saying it cannot intervene because of a statute of limitations that prevents prosecution for alleged crimes committed more than 30 years ago.

“Germany should not apply the statute of limitations to works of art stolen during the war,” said Schmidt, who on Tuesday hung a black and white photograph of the missing canvas in the Pitti Palace museum.