Header Image: Front view of the shield. Image courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art.
While some countries have forever lost art and artifacts due to looting and other atrocious acts of war, sometimes these pieces find their way back to their owners.
An ornate shield once belonging to Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination sparked the Great War, is returning to its home to the Czech Republic. Created by Italian artist Girolamo di Tommaso da Treviso, this decorative shield was probably commissioned for one of the ceremonies that were being held throughout Italy to welcome Emperor Charles V. The decorative shield was never meant to be used at war and depicted a scene of the Romans’ storming of New Carthage, in present-day Spain, in 209 B.C.E. As part of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s collection of arms and armor, the shield was meant to be given to the government of the newly formed Czechoslovakia in 1919 when the Habsburg imperial properties were redistributed after World War I.
When Hitler’s forced annexed this region of the nascent nation in 1939, Nazi curators moved the armor collection to Prague for Hitler’s planned mega-museum in Linz, Austria. When World War II ended, many of the items for this museum were taken by the Allies. While most of the items belonging to the Czech government were returned, 15 items were missing, including the shield.
The shield eventually ended up in the hands of private collector Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, who donated his entire archive, including the shield, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art upon his death in 1976. Although the shield matched the description the Czech government provided for the shield, the museum did not immediately return the shield due to what they call a lack of conclusive evidence. Until now, the shield has been a part of Philadelphia Museum of Art's Galleries of Arms and Armor as part of the Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection.
Since 2016, the museum has been collaborating with historians from the Czech Republic to uncover evidence that this was, indeed, the shield from the Archduke’s collection. Researchers uncovered pre-World War II inventory lists and a photograph of the shield dated to about 1913, which conclusively determined that the shield was once part of the Czech Republic’s historical collection.
As part of the agreement for the return of the shield, the Czech Republic has agreed to consider any future loan request for the shield from the museum. “After eight decades the shield will finally return home, to the place where it has been decorating the Konopiště Castle for many years,” said Lubomír Zaorálek, Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic.