The true ownership of stolen and looted objects is a difficult subject as the brouhaha over the Chinese bronzes shows. But now, through Sotheby’s book and manuscript department, we’re learning that stolen books are part of the equation too. The Daily Mail‘s gossip page has this item which is more interesting for the fact that the manuscripts were pledged to reconcile a debt than the usual claims that the auction house is somehow an accessory:
the company is facing a legal battle over rare manuscripts which, it is alleged, were stolen in Italy and illegally smuggled by Sotheby’s into Britain. [ . . . ]
The manuscripts were apparently pledged to Sotheby’s as security for a debt. The supposed owners – a library based in Naples and a cathedral archive – have now joined forces with the Italian government to issue a High Court writ for their return.
At stake is an Italian treatise on horses and a Book of Hours of Neapolitan origin, both dated from the 15th century, plus a 14th-century religious manuscript. The first two were stolen from the library and the manuscript was stolen from the cathedral.
Sotheby’s in Da Vinci Code Storm (The Daily Mail)