Dosso Dossi (c. 1486–1542)  

Christ the Redeemer

oil on panel, 27.95 x 15.75 in. (71 x 40 cm)

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Dosso Dossi’s Christ the Redeemer, painted in the early sixteenth century, was owned by Prince Félix of Luxembourg and housed in the family's home, Villa Borbone delle Pianore, near Camaiore, in the province of Lucca, Italy. Prince Félix was married to Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, and he came from the equally aristocratic family, the Bourbon-Parmas, a branch of the Spanish royal family.

 

Villa delle Pianore, once called Villa della Duchessa, was occupied by German tank troops beginning on September 11, 1943, then by the German Navy, followed by troops of the Hermann Göring Division, and between July and August 1944, it was the site of a German hospital. The last occupants, SS troops, only added to the destruction and looting that each previous unit had inflicted upon the home. Due to the lack of reliable witnesses, it is impossible to know the exact dates of the looting of Villa delle Pianore. However, it is believed to have occurred in the spring of 1944 by troops of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division.

 

The villa was almost completely stripped of possessions, including fine furniture, paintings of high and low value, books, other small objects, carpets, and even bathroom fittings. Empty frames were left piled in the basement, books and documents were scattered around the home, swords and shields were found on the floors of rooms, mattresses had holes cut in them, and broken furniture lay next to rotting food. Paintings that had been taken from Prince Félix’s properties included a Deposition by Van Dyck, portraits of Alessandro Farnese and Henry III of France, and Dosso Dossi’s Christ the Redeemer.

 

Originally, the plan of the SS was to move the stolen art to Berlin, safely out of the hands of the Allies. However, the loot first stopped at the Dornsberg Castle in the Tyrol mountains, the residence of SS General Karl Wolf, supreme commander of all SS forces in Italy. It is not entirely clear why so much art was being diverted to his house, but whatever the reason, the US Fifth Army reached Dornsberg before the art could enter Germany, and the attached Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives officers were able to save what was found there.   

 

Of the Bourbon-Parma collection, approximately forty works that had been taken from Villa delle Pianore were not found at Dornsberg, including marble busts of the Bourbon rulers of France, and paintings by Canaletto, Perugino, and the Dossi panel. Having since fled to Canada via Portugal and the United States, the Luxembourg Royal Household lodged an official restitution request after the war ended. The pieces found at Dornsberg were returned in 1949. For the remaining missing works, Prince Félix filed a damages claim and was reimbursed by the Italian government for 4 million lire, a huge amount at the time.

 

The missing paintings were kept on lists of missing art for seventy years, and detectives continued to search for them. In 2014, after years of work by the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the first of three Bourbon-Parma paintings was found; a Madonna and Child by Gianni Battista Cima hanging on the wall of a home in Monza, Italy. In the same home Alessio Baldovinetti’s Holy Trinity  also from the Villa delle Pianore, was also found. The owners of the home said they had inherited the paintings from an art-dealer relative and had no idea of the painting’s sordid past. The third work, Girolamo dai Libri’s Jesus Presented at the Temple was also found with a family who had inherited it from a relative in the art world.

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Courtesy of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

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