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Provenance Research

The Gallery actively researches the provenance of all works of art in its collection.

About Provenance Research

Provenance research is the study of an object’s history of ownership, from the time of its creation to the present day. An essential facet of art-historical research, provenance research can provide information about an object’s condition, function, or value. It can also illustrate broader historical narratives, such as the biography of former owners, histories of the art market, and collectors’ tastes.

It is rare to have complete provenance for an object, especially for those that are centuries old. Missing information might be due to lost or destroyed documentation, or may be the result of a gift, purchase, or inheritance being made without written record of the exchange. In exceptional circumstances, research into the ownership history of an object can reveal changes in ownership caused by theft or plunder. Provenance research helps to ensure that museums collect in an ethical and legal way.

The Gallery provides all known provenance information for every object in the collection via the collection pages on its website. Provenance is subject to change as new information becomes available. Provenance research is ongoing, and the Gallery welcomes any information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in its collection.

If you have provenance-related inquiries or information, please contact artgalleryinfo@yale.edu.

Antiquities and Archaeological Material

Antiquities and archeological material have been at risk for illicit excavation and smuggling. The Gallery condemns the looting of archeological sites and the trafficking of cultural property. Curators thoroughly research provenance prior to acquisition, making every effort to obtain reliable documentation that the object left its probable country of modern discovery prior to 1970 or was legally exported from the probable country of modern discovery after 1970. The Gallery makes acquisition decisions following diligent research and retains its right to make informed judgments about acquiring works of art. The treaty signed on November 14, 1970, at the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property provides the Gallery with the 1970 benchmark date for collecting documentation.

Antiquities and archaeological property in the Gallery’s collection without complete documentation are listed on the List of Antiquities and Archaeological Material with Provenance Documentation Gaps page. These works of art also appear on  the AAMD’s Object Registry. Research is ongoing and objects with unconfirmed provenance will be added to this list as they are found.

Nazi-Era Works

The Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, destruction, displacement, and coerced sale of hundreds of thousands of art objects across continental Europe. Though some recovery and restitution occurred during the postwar period, thousands of artworks remain missing to this day. The Gallery seeks to document the ownership history for all works of art that were made in or before 1945 and whose known provenance suggests that they may have been in continental Europe during the Nazi period.

Objects in the Gallery’s collection whose ownership histories remain unconfirmed between the period 1933 and 1945 and are suspected to have been in Europe are listed on the List of Artworks with Nazi-Era Provenance Documentation Gaps page.  Research is ongoing and objects with unconfirmed provenance will be added to this list as they are identified.

Meet the Curator

Antonia V. Bartoli

Antonia V. Bartoli is the Curator of Provenance Research at the Gallery. She oversees provenance research for all acquisitions and incoming loans and is leading systematic investigations into permanent-collection objects. She is a specialist in provenance research with expertise in the Nazi period and has lectured and published on topics including the Italian art market during the Second World War and the spoliation of books, manuscripts, and fine and decorative art objects in Austria, France, Germany, and Poland. She was formerly Spoliation Curator at the British Library, London, and has also worked as the Nina and Lee Griggs Fellow, Department of European Art, at the Gallery, a provenance researcher for Christie’s auction house, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and as a consultant on behalf of families seeking to recover objects lost due to Nazi persecution. She holds an M.A. in the history of art and archaeology from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and an undergraduate M.A. in the history of art from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

antonia.bartoli@yale.edu

Antonia V. Bartoli

Further Reading

Brodie, Nicholas, et al., eds. Illicit Antiquities: The Destruction of the World’s Archaeological Heritage. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2001.

Edsel, Robert M. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. New York: Center Street, 2009.

Feigenbaum, Gail, and Inge Reist, eds. Provenance: An Alternate History of Art. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2012.

Mackenzie, Simon, Neil Brodie, and Donna Yates, eds. Trafficking Culture: New Directions in Researching the Global Market in Illicit Antiquities. New York: Routledge, 2020.

Milosch, Jane C., and Nicholas Pearce, eds. Collecting and Provenance: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2019.

Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Knopf, 1994.

Simpson, Elizabeth. The Spoils of War. New York: H. N. Abrams in association with the Bard Graduate Center, 1997.

Yeide, Nancy, et al. AAM Guide to Provenance Research. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 2001.