The basics of Proveana

Content

The German Lost Art Foundation funds provenance research via projects in public institutions that hold cultural goods, such as museums, libraries and archives. It also funds provenance research in private institutions and by private individuals where this research relates to Nazi-confiscated property. The results of these projects are documented, processed and made publicly accessible in the Proveana database. They are supplemented with additional information from literature, archived documents and digital offerings.

Proveana is primarily designed for researchers, victims whose cultural goods were seized and their descendants and also for politicians, the media and interested members of the public.

The database aims to make the project findings transparent and accessible. It also provides further information in addition to the project results. The database does not claim to be complete because information is continually being added and it is continuously being expanded.

The research reports created by the funded institutions at the end of their projects constitute the basis of the content in Proveana. The historical information contained in the reports is entered into the database where it is prepared in a user-friendly way.

The research reports themselves are available as PDF documents to those users who have registered with the Foundation for extended access based on a legitimate interest.  Prior to publication in the Proveana database, the reports are reviewed to ensure compliance with data protection legislation and information is blacked out where necessary.

In addition to the project results, Proveana also displays other information that previously existed only as isolated “information islands”. These are now meaningfully linked with one another, optimized for search requests and saved in a format that allows for potential expansion. This information currently includes

  • “Modul Forschungsergebnisse” (Research Results Module):  The module, was expanded into a comprehensive, user-friendly database through Proveana.  All the content of the module was transferred to the database.

 

Proveana provides information relating to four research areas:

1. Cultural goods confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution

This includes masterpieces, books, decorative arts and other cultural goods which were lost to their owners between 1933 and 1945 due to Nazi persecution. These items are also often referred to as Nazi-confiscated property.

The specific term “Confiscation as a result of Nazi persecution” covers various forms of loss: looting, apparently voluntary sales that actually took place under pressure, possessions that were forced to be left behind in the course of deportations, etc. The specific term directly links the loss to Nazi persecution.

Meant here are not only Jewish owners, but all persons persecuted “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, ideology or political opposition to National Socialism” (American Military Government Law No. 59, 1947): ethnic minorities, victims of political persecution, political associations and Freemasons.

2. Cultural goods displaced as a result of war

This area primarily concerns the confiscation, movement or relocation of cultural goods as a result of the Second World War. Such objects are frequently referred to as “looted property” for short in order to differentiate them from Nazi-confiscated property (i.e. goods seized through Nazi persecution).

Included here are, for example, the confiscation campaigns of the Soviet Trophy Commissions, thefts by individual Allied forces military personnel and relocated museum items which, for various reasons (e.g. territorial shifts after the war), were not returned to their original place when hostilities ceased.

Because armed conflicts have always impacted cultural goods, the Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1907) forbids the confiscation of private property (Regulations: Article 46) and the seizure “of historic monuments, works of art and science” (Regulations: Article 56).

3. Confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR

This refers to the expropriation and confiscation of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the German Democratic Republic. Research into losses of cultural goods in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the German Democratic Republic covers works of art, cultural property and collections seized from private individuals by the authorities in the Soviet Occupation Zone (1945–1949) and the German Democratic Republic (1949–1990). The aim of such seizures was usually to generate hard currency by selling objects to West Germany or western countries. In many cases, this practice involved bending existing laws.

4. Cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts

The term comprises objects and human remains which originated in colonial contexts. In this instance, the wide definition of “colonial context” is based on the “Guidelines on Dealing with Collections from Colonial Contexts” published by the German Museums Association (2019): not only does it refer to the regions colonized on the African continent, in today’s China and in the Pacific area by the German Reich during the years 1884-1918/19, but it also includes the overall history of European colonial expansion and its repercussions.

Objects and human remains from all these contexts arrived in German museums – not just ethnographical institutions but also, for example, art historical, archaeological, natural history, (local) historical and anatomical collections.

The circumstances associated with such collections could vary widely and encompassed also forms of trade, especially during the early period of colonial expansion. However, the circumstances became increasingly defined by asymmetrical power relations, especially as colonial rule became established, extending to brazen theft or plunder. Consequently, the provenance of cultural goods and collections from colonial contexts must be examined on a case by case basis. The approach to human remains from colonised areas that were brought to Europe requires particular sensitivity.

Data record types

The data provided in the Proveana database is assigned to eight different data record types:

1. Persons, groups of persons and corporate bodies

2. Events

3. Collections

4. Physical objects

5. Provenance attributes

6. Archived documents

7. Literature and digital offerings

8. Projects

 

 Proveana and the Lost Art Database

The Lost Art Database, which is also operated by the German Lost Art Foundation, records details of cultural goods that were displaced, relocated or confiscated due to persecution—particularly in the case of Jewish owners—as a result of the National Socialist dictatorship and the events of the Second World War.  These objects are recorded in the database in the form of search requests and found reports.  The General principles for the registration and deletion of reports in the Lost Art Database are available here.

When a search is carried out in the Proveana database, the contents of the Lost Art Database are searched at the same time.  A central search access point is therefore possible via a shared search mask.

 

Organization

The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media provides project funding to support the development of the research database and its web presence. 

The Proveana database and its web presence are maintained by the German Lost Art Foundation. The team can be contacted here.