Explanations of terms from the field of provenance research and Proveana's four research contexts.

An overview page with all terms is also available.



In 1869, Johann Friedrich Gustav Umlauff (1833-1889) founded “J. F. G. Umlauff” as a natural history store on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. In the years leading up that, through his family connections to →Carl Hagenbeck (1844-1913) he had received dead animals from the zoo for taxidermy and →ethnographic items from →human zoos. He supplemented the items with random objects purchased from ships and sold them as “curiosities from overseas”. From the 1870s onwards, he requested specific objects from outbound seafarers, captains, traders, collectors and scientists. He also established business relationships with merchants, shipping and trading companies that had contacts in other countries and/or were involved in colonial trade or operated in the colonies. In addition, he sought contact with numerous German natural scientists, anthropologists and ethnologists to exchange objects, knowledge and information and imbue himself with an air of academic pride. Almost all museums of natural history and ethnology in Germany with historic holdings have objects that can be traced back to Umlauff. His goods were exhibited in his business premises, which he even briefly referred to as the “Umlauff Museum”.
After his death in 1889, the business was taken over by his sons: Johannes Umlauff (1874-1951) focused on the zoological part, while Heinrich Umlauff (1868-1925) specialized in ethnographic items and subsequently became known for his “ethnographic figures”; these were life-sized puppets that were inspired by real people but were just caricatures exhibited alongside objects in museum dioramas as nameless stereotypes. He also decorated film sets in the Weimar Republic. The Umlauff company was only closed down in 1974. (SF)

  • Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

Unclaimed items

These are →cultural assets that were displaced as a result of war and classified as missing after the Second World War, but which later turned up in other collections. This was due to the fact that the largest return operation of cultural assets displaced as a result of war was carried out from the Soviet Union to the GDR in 1958, with 1.5 million works of art being transferred under great pressure of time, thereby resulting in erroneous allocations. Once the provenance has been clarified, these unclaimed items can be identified and returned to their original collections. (MO)

  • Cultural goods displaced as a result of war


This generally refers to the right to use someone else’s property without modifying it. All maintenance costs are borne by the usufructuary. With regard to the confiscation of cultural property in the former GDR, however, the term "usufruct" specifically refers to the fact that, in 1994, public collections were granted the right to use objects that had been confiscated during the →land reform and were subject to restitution claims.

The →Entschädigungs- und Ausgleichsleistungsgesetz (Compensation and Equalisation Payments Act, EALG) stipulated that any movable private assets that had been confiscated between 1945 and 1949 were to be restituted, provided they were still in existence and the relevant restitution claim was filed with the Federal Office or (Regional) Offices for the Settlement of Unresolved Property Issues (BARoV, LARoV or ARoV). However, museum items regarded as special works of cultural heritage could be reserved for a period of 20 years for the benefit of the public and research institutions, but above all for the mutual regulation of future use. The usufructuary rights did not apply to objects that had not been exhibited for more than two years.

Ever since the usufructuary periods expired on 31 November 2014, museums have only been able to use such third-party holdings with the express consent of their lawful owners. (MD)

  • Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR


Attention, this is a problematic term from contemporary historical linguistic usage. The current use of this term is inappropriate or only common in the scientific context with appropriate labeling. Such terms can be discriminatory, euphemistic, ideologically tinged neologisms and/or ideologically motivated neologisms.

While the original term ("Verwertung") is generally used in the German language to refer to the sale (or processing) of goods, it was re-coined as part of the confiscation of cultural property in Nazi Germany to refer to the profitable sale of Jewish assets. The victims had to cover the administrative costs associated with their own disenfranchisement, repression and destruction. In this context, "utilization" should therefore be seen as a euphemistic neologism introduced as part of the Nazi propaganda. (SL)

  • Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution