30 Sep 2011

Rare medallion recovered

Medallion lost during World War 2 recovered on behalf of Schloss Friedenstein in Germany

A rare seventeenth-century German medallion, or Gnadenpfennig, has been returned to the Castle Friedenstein Foundation Collection in Germany from which it was illegally removed in the aftermath of WWII. The Gnadenpfennig, which depicts Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Gotha with his wife, Elisabeth Sophie, on the reverse, had been a prized piece in the museum's collection for centuries. Although there are several other examples of the golden medallion still in existence, the lavish enamel detailing makes this exquisitely-preserved work unique.

Following the mysterious circumstances of its removal from Gotha, the Gnadenpfennig passed into a private New York collection in 1947. It was then sold several times before entering the possession of a well-known American collector, who went on to sell his collection in 1969. The Gnadenpfennig was not seen again until this year, when it was offered for sale to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). Thrilled at the possibility of acquiring this rare and valuable item, the MFA undertook research in to the provenance of the piece. Unable to clarify the circumstances surrounding the medallion's removal from Gotha, however, the MFA contacted the London-based Art Loss Register (ALR), who was able to confirm Schloss Friedenstein's active claim on the medallion.

The ALR, who have extensive experience mediating complex art disputes, contacted SJ Phillips Ltd, the prestigious jewellery and art dealer who offered the medallion to the MFA. Upon learning of its illegal removal from Gotha, SJ Phillips immediately agreed to release the Gnadenpfennig to the ALR for return to Castle Friedenstein.

In September 2011 the Gnadenpfennig was returned by the ALR to Gotha in a small restitution ceremony. The ALR would like to emphasise that "both the outstanding research performed by the MFA, and the exemplary due diligence and cooperation of SJ Phillips made this joyful return possible."

The Foundation were delighted to have another missing masterpiece returned to them by the ALR, who earlier this year returned two rare majolica bowls stolen c. 1945. Director of the Castle Friedenstein Foundation, Dr Martin Eberle, expressed his thanks to all who contributed to the item's return. "We are extremely grateful to the ALR for their efforts, which have contributed to restoring Gotha's collections to something of their former glory. This treasure, which Ernst I probably held in his own hands, belongs in his castle in Gotha. Moreover, we would like to thank SJ Phillips for their understanding in this matter."

Victoria Reed, Monica S. Sadler Curator for Provenance at the MFA, whose keen eye and knowledge of Castle Friedenstein losses led to the identification of the medallion, observed, "to me, this situation demonstrates the importance of diligence during the acquisition process, that is, paying attention to red flags and conducting additional research when necessary, as well as not proceeding until critical questions of provenance have been answered."