Florida Museum to Hold On to Disputed Painting

New York Times 9 September 2011
By James McKinley Jr

Federal officials have ordered a museum in Tallahassee, Florida, not to return a painting on loan from Italy because it may have been stolen by the Nazis during World War II, the head of the museum said.

The authorities are working with the Italian Ministry of Culture to determine the rightful owners of the work: a 473-year-old oil painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Girolamo Romano entitled “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue.”

Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue” by the Italian Renaissance artist Girolamo Romano.

The painting was on display at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science, one of fifty works on loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan for a show of Baroque painting from Lombardy.

Chucha Barber, the Brogan museum’s chief executive officer, said the United States attorney in Tallahassee, Pamela Marsh, had informed the museum on July 21 that the painting was believed to have been illegally seized from a Jewish family by the French Vichy government during the war. The museum was instructed that the painting should not be returned to Italy until the ownership is established, she said.

Ms. Barber also said she had received a phone call from Lionel Salem, a French-born chemist who is the grandson of the painting’s original owner, Guiseppe Gentili. Mr. Salem had informed her the painting in her gallery matches one that had belonged to Mr. Gentili before the war and was sold in a 1941 government auction, after most of the Gentili family had fled France. Several other paintings from that auction ended up at the Louvre and were eventually returned to the family after a long legal battle, Ms. Barber said.

The earliest records of the painting indicate it was painted in the 1530s and was first bought by Antonio and Cesare Averoldi. Mr. Gentili bought it at an auction in Paris in 1914. An Italian Jew, Mr. Gentili transported the painting with him when he fled Mussolini’s Italy for France in the 1930s. Though the show at the Brogan has been taken down, Ms. Barber said the museum has reached an agreement with the Italian authorities to keep the Romano work on display while they investigate who owns it.
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