Museums in row over statue adored by Hitler

Adolf Hitler at the exhibition of the Discobolus Palombara, Gylptothek, Munich, 10.7.1938
During a visit to Rome in 1938, Hitler was captivated by the statue because of its apparent embodiment of Aryan aesthetics - STOCK PHOTO/ALAMY

A German museum has requested the return of a Roman sculpture bought by Adolf Hitler but later given back to Italy.

Munich’s Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek asked the National Roman Museum to give back the 2nd-century Discobolus Palombara, a copy of a long-lost Greek original.

Hitler was captivated by the statue during a visit to Rome in 1938, for its apparent embodiment of Aryan aesthetics. Despite refusals from Italy’s education minister and culture officials to sell the statue, its owner agreed under pressure from dictator Benito Mussolini.

The Discobolus, which was found in a Roman villa in 1781 and was owned by Prince Lancellotti, remained in the museum in Munich until 1948. It was then returned to Italy in 1948 as part of the works illegally obtained by the Nazis.

The German museum’s request for the statue comes amid a wider spat that started when the Italian museum asked for the statue’s 17th-century marble case to be returned to it.

Italy's minister of cultural heritage, Gennaro Sangiuliano
Italy's response to the German request was furious. 'Over my dead body,' said the minister of cultural heritage, Gennaro Sangiuliano - MARCO CANTILE/LIGHTROCKET

The German museum declined and asked to have the statue back, prompting a furious response from the Italians.

“Over my dead body,” Italian culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano, who must approve the return, replied. “It’s an absurd request because at the time the work was already restricted and couldn’t be exported.”

The minister also said he found it serious that the museum referred to a purchase made by Hitler with the complicity of Italy’s fascist regime.

“Having said this, our cultural ties with Germany are excellent. I think the government in Berlin doesn’t know anything about this request. Between me and German [culture] minister Claudia Roth there is great cordiality,” he added.

Germany’s government didn’t reply to a request for comment.

Statue was legally bought

The museum in Munich justified its request by saying the statue had been illegally transported to Italy, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported.

It also said that the statue was legally bought by the German state at the time, with the Italian authorities’ permission.

The Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Discobolus was part of a recent exhibition in the Scuderie del Quirinale museum in Rome, along other masterpieces, including Tiziano’s Danae, which the Nazis brought to Germany during the Second World War and whose restitution was obtained by Italy years later.

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