Art Museum to Return Missing Artifact to Germany in March

Astronomical Compendium or Astrolabium (Astrolabe) from the Toledo Museum of Art collection to be returned to German museum. Image courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art

Astronomical Compendium or Astrolabium (Astrolabe) from the Toledo Museum of Art collection to be returned to German museum. It is the second time the art museum will be returning stolen artifacts. Image courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art


Art Museum rekindles stolen art debate as it returns prized item to German museum


TOLEDO, OHIOToledo Museum of Art announced Wednesday that it will be retuning a lavishly-designed, 16th-century scientific instrument to Gotha Museum in Germany in March. Known as the astrological compendium or astrolabe, Toledo Museum of Art purchased the 450-year-old piece in 1954 for $6,500 from Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, and has been a prized possession of the museum since then. Recent discoveries, however, have shown that Gotha Museum is the rightful owner of the piece. Evidence shows that the astrolabe was part of the Gotha Museum’s collection until it went missing in the period after World War II.

In 2013 Toledo Museum authorities received a letter from the director of the Gotha Museum requesting the return of this rare and important piece. As prove of ownership, the “Gotha Museum presented extensive documentation, including photographs, which convinced TMA officials that the Toledo astrolabe was the same one missing since 1945.” Manufactured in Germany, the astrolabe was a multifunctional device used to tell time and make astronomical calculations less than 50 years after Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition circumnavigated the globe by sea for the first time. It measures 6 7/8 in.; H. 1 1/16 in.

It was based on the evidence presented by the Gotha Museum that Toledo Art Museum is returning this important piece. The two museums are in private arrangements to ensure the safe return of the astrolabe. In appreciation of Toledo Museum of Art’s cooperation in the return of the astrological compendium, Gotha officials have offered objects to Toledo as part of a cultural exchange. Although the objects have not been specified, they are expected to strengthen the relationship between the two art institutions.

Toledo Museum  and the History of Stolen Art

The return of the astrolabe marks the fourth time the Toledo Art Museum  will be announcing the return of cultural treasures and objects to their home country after questions arose regarding their acquisition history. Last Fall, the Toledo Museum of Art announced that it would return to India a rare bronze statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh which the museum bought for $245,000 in 2006. The announcement rekindled the debate   about looted treasures   and suspected stolen art discovered in the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art. Just before the Hindu deity Ganesh incident, the Toledo Museum of Art had returned to Germany a delicate porcelain mermaid. Soon after, Italy received a 2,500-year-old painted terracotta water jug believed to have been illegally dug up from that country years ago. The water vessel, or kalpis, that had been on display at the Toledo Museum of Art since 1982, was was purchased from an antiquities dealer out of Switzerland. On the orangey clay vessel at the Toledo museum of Art are black paintings depicting the Greek tale of Dionysos, the god of wine and drama

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Toledo Museum of Art announcement that it will be returning the astrolabe to Gotha Museum shows great courage and the willingness to abide by global cultural tenets. This gesture has however not allayed fear of what might happen next. Even as the Toledo Museum of Art continues to extend hand of fellowship to other art museum and institutions across the globe by returning art objects and looted treasures , there is great trepidation among art scholars that this may not be the end of the issue of stolen art from the Toledo Museum of Art.

Toledo Museum of Art announced in 2014 that the museum would be Hindu deity Ganesh, 1,000-year-old statue to India

A rare bronze statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh returned by the Toledo Museum of Art to India. Image courtesy of Toledo Museum of Art

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