From World War I to the Nazis and beyond; art, history, and the law

By | 7 November 2013

Anne-Marie Carstens’ DPhil research focused on the development of international law governing the wartime protection of cultural property over the course of the past century.

During her research, she found a passing reference in an old book to an international conference that was held in 1915, in the midst of World War I, which was dedicated to protecting cultural property during armed conflict–the first such international conference ever, and one generally ignored in the contemporary English-language literature.  She therefore asked for help in obtaining a copy of a stenographic report through interlibrary loan, but when one could not be found, a member of the Library staff, Ronald Richenburg, tracked one down from a German antiquarian bookseller, and thanks to Helen Garner and AbeBooks, the Bodleian Law Library acquired it for the collection: Kriegstagung für Denkmalpflege:  Stenographischer Bericht (Stenographic Report of the War-Conference for the Protection of Monuments).

The report showed that German and Austro-Hungarian political and military leaders gathered in  the hope of creating new rules to improve protection of cultural property in modern warfare, and they considered a few proposals, including one from leading art history professor Cornelius Gurlitt (not the one in this week’s news, but his grandfather).  The secretive conference decided against a broader international conference at the last minute, given the wartime political conditions, which also ultimately led the conference to leave all the proposals on the table indefinitely.  It nonetheless was an important historical event, and the copy obtained by the Bodleian Law Library was Professor Gurlitt’s personal copy, as indicated by the stamp on the book cover.

Image of the Reprt, showing Cornelius Gurlitt's stamp on the front

Image of the Report, showing Cornelius Gurlitt’s stamp on the front, at the top left hand corner

And so, you can imagine Anne-Marie Carstens’ surprise at the irony:  a century ago, a leading professor promotes a proposed international agreement for protecting art during war; his son becomes a major art dealer to Nazi leaders, and “comes into possession” of Nazi-seized masterpieces … and now his grandson of the same name has apparently been caught with an incredible treasure trove of major artworks lost from view since World War II.

Very few copies of the report were circulated even at the time, given the secrecy surrounding the conference, and the Law Library is delighted that thanks to Anne-Marie Carstens’ research needs, we now hold a copy of this rare item.  We hope that she will have the opportunity to publish her further research, elaborating on the conference and its relevance to the  development of the law of war in the 20th century.

Extract from the Report, referring to Cornelius Gurlitt

Extract from the Report:  Cornelius Gurlitt’s contribution (click to enlarge)

(The Bodleian Law Library thanks Anne-Marie Carstens for her contribution to this blogpost).

2 thoughts on “From World War I to the Nazis and beyond; art, history, and the law

  1. Camilla Barker

    Remarkable! I am always fascinated by stories about the rare pieces libraries hold in their collections. Great to know a bit more about ours!

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