Jan Van Huysum’s
“Vase of Flowers”
On July 19, 2019, in a ceremony at the Pitti Palace in Florence, German officials returned Jan van Huysum’s Vase of Flowers to Italy. This painting, missing for seventy-five years, was one of nearly 750 works of art belonging to the iconic museums and churches of Florence and other Tuscan towns that local officials had hidden in countryside villas, away from the dangers of war.
In July 1944, German forces stumbled upon the art caches, loaded them onto trucks, and drove north to hiding places in two small towns near the Italian/German border. The Monuments Men discovered both of the German repositories in early May 1945, but their hearts sank when they realized ten paintings were missing. Not until 1963 did seven of the ten missing paintings surface in two separate discoveries, both in the possession of former German Wehrmacht soldiers involved in the August 1944 art heist convoy. The return of the van Huysum brings the number of paintings that eluded the Monuments Men down to just two (School of Anthony van Dyck; School of Agnolo Bronzino).
Common to all discovery and restitution cases are these four characteristics: diplomacy; extensive research and investigative work; influencers who raise awareness and engage the court of public opinion; and luck/timing. In the case of the van Huysum return, all four were present in abundance. This would not have
been possible without the diplomatic efforts of Alberto Bonisoli, Cultural Heritage Minister of Italy, and Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, working with their counterpart, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas; the investigative leadership of General Giovanni Nistri, General Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Corps, and General Parrulli, Commander of the Carabinieri’s Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, whose dedicated team tracked down every lead during a multi-decade investigation; and Eike Schmidt, Director of the Uffizi Galleries, who courageously stepped forward in January of this year to make a public and moral appeal for the return of the painting.
Our Foundation contributed by raising worldwide awareness of the Vase of Flowers, through Robert Edsel’s books, in particular Saving Italy and through our groundbreaking investigative documentary series, Hunting Nazi Treasure (produced by Saloon Media), which dedicated an entire episode to these wartime events in Italy and profiled the missing van Huysum.