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Lawyers often too rigid about looted art

Law researcher Evelien Campfens is calling for a better legal treatment of looted art. ‘For lawyers, ownership is a very absolute concept. There is one legal owner and that is that.’ Campfens is a PhD candidate at the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Global Heritage and Development.

For her thesis Campfens delved into the extremely complex world of looted art and illegally obtained cultural artefacts. ‘Across the globe there are many cases of unlawfully looted, lawfully owned cultural objects.’ In an interview with Mauro Smit she discusses the sensational example of the Chinese Buddha statue containing the mummified body of Zhanggong Zushi, an 11th century monk. The statue was stolen from a Chinese village in 1995, and was purchased soon after by a Dutch collector in Hong Kong. In 2018, a Dutch court ruled the claim inadmissible because the Chinese village could not be identified as the legal owner. Campfens believes that the notion of a heritage title could be key in such cases. She also calls for stricter standards for the art trade: ‘Make provenance research a condition in the art trade.’ 

Read the full interview  ‘Owning cultural objects; researching a framework’'.

LeidenGlobal held a symposium about looted art in January 2020. Read the report ‘Angels for sale.’.

Banner photo: Detail of the St Mark mosaic in the Panagia Kanakaria church. This 6th-century mosaic was stolen from Cyprus in 1974 but was found after years of sleuth work. Photo Walk of Truth

LDE Centre for Global Heritage and Development

The Centre for Global Heritage and Development initiates, stimulates and facilitates innovative interdisciplinary research and teaching in the field of heritage. It focuses on heritage and the environment, identity and heritage under threat. It also specialises in consultation work for government, NGOs and other stakeholders.

Museums, Collections & Society is an interdisciplinary programme (in Dutch) at the Faculty of Humanities and Faculty of Archaeology that aims to promote research on collections, stimulate teaching in this area and to ask ethical questions about the provenance of these collections.

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