Precious Renaissance shield looted by Nazis to return to Czech Republic from US

A priceless Renaissance shield that was looted by the Nazis from Konopiště castle during WW2 is to return to the Czech Republic. Following months of negotiations, its current owner, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has acknowledged Czech ownership of the artefact and agreed to return it to the Czech Republic.

Photo: Czech TelevisionPhoto: Czech Television The ceremonial shield crafted by Girolamo di Tommaso da Treviso around 1535 was part of a weapons collection amassed by the d’Este noble family and displayed at Konopiště castle in Central Bohemia until the 1940s. It was seized by Nazi authorities in order to become part of Adolf Hitler’s planned museum in the Austrian city of Linz. Some thirty years later, in 1976, the shield resurfaced again when a New York based collector of German descent bequeathed it to the Philadelphia museum. Czech historian Ladislav Čepička, specializing in Nazi plunder, came across the item in the museum’s collection in 2016.

“It is a round wooden shield, coated in leather, with gilded ornaments and a beautiful design. It matches a series of shields we have at Konopiště, only this one was impossible to locate after WW2. It used to be part of the arms collection of the Obizzi noble family, and later the house of Este of Ferrara. It was inherited by [archduke] Franz Ferdinand d’Este who brought the whole collection to Konopiště after he bought the castle and displayed it there.”

The assassination of the archduke in Sarajevo in 1914 triggered the First World War. The Konopiště property including its contents was confiscated by the newly formed republic of Czechoslovakia, only to be confiscated again by the Nazis. Ladislav Čepička again.

Konopiště castle, photo: Martina SchneibergováKonopiště castle, photo: Martina Schneibergová “We know that during WW2 the Nazi occupation authority seized the Konopiště collections because they were in state ownership from 1920, and intended them for a planned military museum in Prague. But a representative of Adolf Hitler, professor Ruprecht from the Vienna Historical Museum, turned up and took the items to [the salt mines of] Altausee, where they were hidden for the planned Hitler museum, and to Vienna. We lost track of them in the autumn of 1944.”

Much of the collection was tracked down after the war but around a dozen items remained missing. After Ladislav Čepička discovered that the shield, worth an estimated million dollars, could be part of the Philadelphia collection two years ago, Czech authorities took up the case, namely the Foreign Ministry’s Special Representative for Holocaust Affairs Antonín Hradilek and his team. Ladislav Čepička says he can envisage that after reuniting with the rest of the Konopiště collection the shield could be returned as a long-term loan to Philadelphia to become part of an exhibition on Nazi theft in the Czech lands.