Prof. Romano edits, co-authors ‘The Fate of Antiquities in the Nazi Era’

For University of Arizona Art History Professor Irene Bald Romano, a five-year journey with 15 other international scholars culminated last month when the authors saw their research published as a special online monograph, “The Fate of Antiquities in the Nazi Era.”

The publication — edited and co-authored by Romano — presents for the first time a comprehensive view of the fate of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern antiquities that changed hands during the Nazi period from 1933 to 1945 in Europe, the Middle East, the United States and elsewhere.

Professor Irene Romano

Romano wrote the preface, an extensive introduction and the lead article for the special 2023 issue of RIHA, the journal of the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art.

The scholars’ project, previewed by The New York Times and other news outlets in 2022, was a collaboration with the Getty Research Institute and the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, an independent art-historical research institute in Munich.

“I hope this publication will become a standard reference on the subject of the fate of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern antiquities during the Nazi era,” Romano said, “with its extensive bibliographic and archival resources, as well as its methodologies, useful to other researchers, including individuals who are hoping to recover collections that belonged to family members who perished in the Holocaust.

“It also would be gratifying if this publication inspires students of art history, history, Classics, archival studies and other disciplines to become interested in provenance research, a growing field that has become indispensable to museums today and will remain so in the future.”

The idea for a publication was born at a meeting in Munich in October 2018. That’s when Romano and a group of German and American museum professionals, archivists and scholars — part of the Provenance Research Exchange Program (PREP) — realized the subject of the fate of Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities during the Nazi period had not been sufficiently addressed in the large body of scholarly literature on fine arts.

“Although in the past decades research into Nazi-era looted art has been widespread and provenance research in this field has blossomed, the fate of antiquities has rarely been in the spotlight and is far less systematically studied,” Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin, wrote in the publication’s foreword.

“This volume makes a large contribution to filling this void. … It is valuable not just for readers with an interest in antiquities but also for scholars studying the art market and its mechanisms; for researchers exploring the networks and systems by which artworks were dispersed during the Nazi era and studying the history of restitution; and for art historians interested in the history of collecting and taste,” he wrote.

Parzinger went on to thank all the authors, especially Romano, “who not only put the topic up for discussion in 2018 but also persevered in the lengthy task of making this publication happen.”

“Last but not least, at a time when war is once more having a chilling effect on scholarly and scientific cooperation, this publication proves again the value of bringing experts together across disciplines and borders in the interest of scholarship and insight,” he said.

Romano talked more about the RIHA Journal special issue in an interview with the University of Arizona School of Art:

Q: How rewarding – and challenging – was the project?

Romano: I’m very pleased to see this research and publication project finally come to fruition, with the results accessible to scholars and the general public in this open-source, online format. … It was a challenging five-year-long journey for me with 15 other authors from various countries, each with their own work schedules and life issues, not to mention a pandemic that intervened, making visits to indispensable archives, libraries and museum collections difficult for many.

A challenge for anyone working on the Nazi period is that there are mountains of archival materials in many repositories in the U.S. and Europe, some of it duplicative, and only some it available online. In addition, in Nazi-period inventories and in various recent databases that have been created of works of art transferred during the Nazi period, archaeological objects are often not included or are cited in such a general way that they are not identifiable. I outline some of these challenges in the Introduction to the volume.

There was, however, a great deal of enthusiasm for getting this work published, and we had the unwavering support and expert advice of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich to bring it all about. A rewarding aspect of this was the collegiality of the authors, as well as the interest and assistance of a wider group of scholars who offered their expertise on specific issues. We have built a large research team and piqued the interest of some younger scholars who will move this research forward in the future.

Q. Could you sum up the conclusions gleaned from the broader study?

Romano: The first conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that broad conclusions are difficult. There are many individual histories of people, especially of collectors, dealers and Nazi officials, who played some role in the trade in antiquities in this period, as victims or active participants, and these are the most compelling aspects of these studies. We focus first, however, on the “lives” of objects. It is also hard to define broad conclusions because the Nazi period in various parts of Europe was not uniform vis-à-vis the collecting, interest in, confiscations and transfers of ancient objects.

The situation in Greece, for example, was quite different than that in Nazi-occupied France. In Greece there was no official Nazi policy of confiscating antiquities from museums, but we have documented cases of random looting, orchestrated thefts, and illicit excavations. The Jewish population in Greece was mostly in communities in northern Greece and they were not particularly collectors of ancient objects, as we can see from the forced inventories and confiscation of their household goods. In France, however, especially in Paris, there were major collections of wealthy Jews that were targeted for confiscation, and these included at least some antiquities.

Covers of the catalogs for the “Great German Art Exhibition”, Munich 1937 and Munich 1938.
University of Arizona Libraries, Tucson, Special Collections (photograph by Irene Romano)

For example, Alphonse Kann’s collection of 1,614 works of art, confiscated in October 1940 from his mansion in Saint-Germain-en-Laye outside Paris, comprised at least 150 ancient objects, including Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, Etruscan and Byzantine objects (in order of numbers), for around 9 percent of Kann’s eclectic collection. In general, however, Egyptian artifacts rank a close second to Greek and Roman antiquities in the collecting practices and transfers during the Nazi period in Europe.

In this publication we have tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but our impression is that we have scratched into the surface of the broad subject and there is still much more to be done — details to be uncovered about individual objects, collections, dealers and collectors, as well as perpetrators of crimes, and more data to be mined from the increasing numbers of digitized databases, auction catalogs and dealer files. In addition, scholarly examination of archival documents in many repositories and provenance research in many museum collections remain to be conducted. These will certainly add to our picture of antiquities collecting and trade in the first half of the 20th century in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S., as well as the methods and nature of antiquities’ transfers during the Nazi period.

Q. How have you incorporated the project into your teaching here at School of Art?

Romano: My interest in art and antiquities during the Nazi period began as a result of my teaching here at the University of Arizona. In 2013 I created an upper division undergraduate and graduate Art History class called “Art as Plunder: The Spoils of War, the Formation of Collections, and Trade in Stolen Art” in which the Nazi period figures prominently.

Students are uniformly interested in this topic, some of whom are encountering it for the first time. Several Jewish students have come forward to share their own poignant family stories. This class and a seminar I have occasionally offered on provenance research have inspired some outstanding research papers and M.A. theses. One of these contributed critical information about a painting in the University of Arizona Museum of Art that changed hands during the Nazi period.

Q. What are you working on now?

Romano: Among the research projects I’m involved with is one stimulated by this publication on “The Fate of Antiquities in the Nazi Era.” It’s focused on the provenance of 11 Greek and Roman marble sculptures in the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva that were collected by Ludwig Pollak (1868-1943) — one of the most important connoisseurs of ancient classical art from the end of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Pollak was from a Jewish family in Prague and trained in Vienna, but he spent most of his career in Rome. He was an archaeologist and dealer, as well curator and director of the Museo Barracco di Scultura Antica, and highly respected and well-connected in the art world in Rome and internationally.

As a Jew in Rome feeling the increasing pressure of anti-Semitic policies in the 1930s and 1940s, Ludwig Pollak began to disperse some of his personal collection, including by depositing for safekeeping eleven of his ancient sculptures in the Musée d’art et d’histoire in 1940. Pollak remained in Rome, and he, his wife and two children were rounded up with other Roman Jews on 16 October 1943, and shortly thereafter they were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The museum was later given or purchased these objects from Pollak’s heir. Although some of these sculptures in Geneva have been previously published, no one has examined them with reference to the collector and their provenance — their ancient context; how, when and where Pollak acquired them; and their modern transfers.

More about Prof. Romano

“The Fate of Antiquities in the Nazi Era”: Table of Contents


  • Foreword: Gail Feigenbaum and Sandra van Ginhoven (Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles)
  • Foreword: Christian Fuhrmeister (Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, Munich)
  • Foreword: Hermann Parzinger (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin)
  • Preface: Irene Bald Romano (University of Arizona, Tucson; Guest Editor)


  • “Antiquities in the Nazi Era: Contexts and Broader View,” Irene Bald Romano (University of Arizona, Tucson)


  • “Collecting Classical Antiquities among the Nazi Elite,” Irene Bald Romano (University of Arizona, Tucson)
  • “The Role of Antiquities between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: Diplomatic Gifting, Legal and Illegal Trades,” Daria Brasca (Università degli Studi di Udine, Udine)
  • “Göring’s Collection of Antiquities at Carinhall,” Laura Puritani (Zentralarchiv, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
  • “Stolen and Returned: The Marble Statue of Philippe from Samos,” Alexandra Kankeleit (Freie Universität, Berlin)
  • “Export Regulations and the Role of Ancient Objects in the German List of Nationally Important Artworks,” Maria Obenaus (Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste, Magdeburg)
  • “The Annihilation of the German Numismatic Market during the Nazi Era, with Some Observations on the Countermeasures Adopted by Jewish Ancient Coin Dealers,” Emanuele Sbardella (Technische Universität, Berlin)
  • “The Patronage of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum by German-Jewish Press Tycoon Rudolf Mosse (1843–1920) and the Sequestration of His Art Collection during the Third Reich,” Thomas L. Gertzen (Freie Universität, Berlin) and Jana Helmbold-Doyé (Ägyptisches Museum – Georg Steindorff – Universität Leipzig)
  • “The Antiquities Trade during the German Occupation of France, 1940–1944,” Mattes Lammert (Technische Universität, Berlin)
  • “ ‘Unclaimed’ Artworks Entrusted to French Museums after World War II: The Case of Near Eastern Art and Antiquities,” Anne Dunn-Vaturi (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), François Bridey (Musée du Louvre, Paris; French Consulate, New York), and Gwenaëlle Fellinger (Musée du Louvre, Paris)
  • “The Fate of the Antiquities Collection of Izabela Działyńska (neé Czartoryska),” Inga Głuszek (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń) and Michał Krueger (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

Object Case Studies

  • “A Case Study in Plunder and Restitution: Three Ancient Sculptures from the Lanckoroński Collection,” Victoria S. Reed (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
  • “A Goddess of the Night, a Roman Gem, and the Bachstitz Gallery,” Claire L. Lyons (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles)

Jeehey Kim’s ‘pioneering’ book on Korean photography is published

Nearly five years in the making, Jeehey Kim‘s new book is the first history of Korean photography in English.

Kim, an assistant professor of Art History at the University of Arizona School of Art, said she did most of the writing for “Photography and Korea” during the pandemic to go along with the book’s striking images.

Assistant Prof. Jeehey Kim

“As this is the first book on the history of Korean photography from the 19th century until now in the Western language, I hope it contributes to diversifying the field,” Kim said. “In addition, translation of the book into Korean, Japanese and Chinese is also underway to reach the broader public in Asia.”

The University of Chicago Press recently began distributing “Photography and Korea” for Reaktion Books, which published the 272-page book in the United Kingdom this summer. It features 41 color plates and 93 halftones.

Korean travelers brought photographic technology home from China in the late 19th century.

In her book, Kim presents multiple visions of Korea, including the divided peninsula, and the country as imagined through foreign eyes, key Korean artists and local photographers. Kim also explores studio and institutional practices during the Japanese colonial period, and the divergence of practices after the division of Korea.

“Kim draws on a selection of striking images to bring alive Korean politics, foreign relations and norms, making this both a comprehensive history of Korean photography and a worthy examination of Korean identity,” Publisher’s Weekly said.

Mina Kim, an assistant professor of Art History at the University of Alabama, called Jeehey Kim’s book “a unique contribution to our understanding of photography in Korea.”

“(She) shows how photography began in the region, who adopted and promoted it, and how the role of photography has evolved and diversified over periods since the 19th century,” Mina Kim continued, “as Korea developed through its colonial legacy, occupation and war, and rapid social, political and economic developments.”

Boyoung Chang, a Mellon assistant professor in History of Art and Architecture at Vanderbilt University, called Kim’s work “a pioneering study and a key resource for scholars of photography history, visual culture, Korean studies, and East Asian studies.”

“Not only does this book provide a framework for photo historians focusing on the region, but it also contributes to the decolonization and diversification of the history of photography,” Chang said.

Named an Early Career Scholar by the University of Arizona last spring, Kim is helping the Center for Creative Photography organize an exhibition on Korean contemporary photography in collaboration with the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. It will open on Nov. 17, followed by a one-day symposium on Nov. 18 and a talk with four Korean photographers on Nov. 19.

In 2022, Kim created a three-part symposia centered on the history and practice of photography in KoreaTaiwan  and Southeast Asia.

Kim received a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Art History from the City University of New York Graduate Center, and a B.A. in English Literature from Duksung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.

Since coming to the University of Arizona in 2019, Kim has established nine art history classes, one of which was created in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. She also taught at universities in New York, New Jersey, and Korea and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago.

• Reaktion books web page
• University of Chicago Press web page

Mellon recipient Cordova hopes art project adds to border discourse

As part of his fellowship to study and interpret the U.S.-Mexico border, Nathan Cordova not only is interviewing his labor-activist uncle, but the School of Art graduate student also is conceptually interrogating the border wall itself.

The result will be “Ghosts and Shadows,” a 20-minute audio/visual project that Cordova will screen locally in Tucson. Cordova, an MFA candidate in the school’s nationally ranked Photography, Video and Imaging program, is one of eight University of Arizona students to receive the 2023 Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellowship.

Nathan Cordova in the field

Cordova plans to travel to Tijuana, Mexico, and has already visited the border wall in Nogales and the pre-1848 U.S.-Mexico border in Colorado. He also plans to do a second Q&A in Los Angeles with his uncle Raymond Cordova, a labor and civil rights organizer with the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez in the 1960s and ’70s.

“While the original impetus of my interview was to learn more about my uncle’s time with the UFW, he instead expanded my frame of reference for my own project to a world without borders, where all labor is dignified,” Nathan Cordova said.

In the end, the grad student hopes his project “can add to the discourse of possibilities that we collectively imagine about this material/immaterial entity we call the U.S.-Mexico border wall.”

“The part that excites me the most … is the way I’ve proposed to engage with the agency of the material that comprises a lot of the border wall,” Cordova said. “I find iron, of which steel is made, to be an incredibly poetic material — a material that is always working to return itself to the earth, despite the nation-state’s best attempts to prevent it. In this way, the iron that comprises the border wall is actively working toward its own destruction of form and its own transformation.”

Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi, Cordova’s thesis adviser, also is excited about his project.

“By mining his family history from a critical perspective on how the border permeated the lives of his kinfolk and other communities with similar consequences, and by researching the conditions of the (wall’s) structure and site through a direct and embodied presence, Nathan is forming a vehicle for an encounter at various scales of knowledge,” Alshaibi said.

“Nathan’s project shares that borders are not just facts on the ground but also penetrable material in their making and, therefore, physically functioning toward their undoing,” she said. “In other words, when borders are made, the artist, as an activist, archivist and storyteller, can similarly act as the agent remaking a radical knowledge surrounding its presence and meaning over time. The political embodiment of borders requires re-imagining the physical conditions implicated in their trespassing over land and lives.”

Sharing with the community

Cordova hopes to screen his audio/video artwork to the public by this December, followed by a community engagement discussion with group reflections and possibly guest scholars from the university community. He’ll also make the work available for classes and symposiums.

Nathan Cordova works on earlier photo project.

“Nathan’s project creates social and institutional conditions for productive dialogue about what borders are, what they mean, and what can be imagined otherwise,” Alshaibi said.

Cordova, 38, received his undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon. He spent more than a decade running a freelance commercial photography business, including weddings, which took him throughout the U.S. Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

A multidisciplinary artist who works primarily with photography, video, sound, sculpture and performance, Cordova joined the MFA program at the University of Arizona in fall 2021. He’s independently published four artists’ books, including “One Man’s Body Family Album” (2020), and his commissioned work has appeared in WIRED.

“I learned a lot about myself in those early years,” Cordova said about his wedding and commercial photography. “I built a ton of self-confidence through the practice of showing up in a new place and immersing myself in a group of people I’d never met before.”

He and fellow graduate classmate Jacqueline Arias are active in the Southwest Photo Collaborative, which includes MFA students from the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico. Their recent artwork is part of the “Land, Body & Archive” traveling exhibition, which ran until Sept. 22 in Albuquerque and is slated to be at the School of Art’s Lionel Rombach Gallery from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3 and in Tempe in early 2024.

Cordova said his artwork maps the poetic, philosophical and historical exploration of family testimony by making meaning out of sites of struggle and locations of identity.

That’s where his uncle comes in. A civil rights champion, Ray Cordova spent 18 months in the ‘60’s with the “Freedom Summer Movement.” He served in the U. S. Army Airborne and was a sergeant in Vietnam.

“My uncle and I talked for six hours straight. He’s done so much in his life that I felt like we only got to skim the surface,” Nathan Cordova said. “Perhaps, the most surprising part was learning more about the truly international scope of the labor organizing he’s been involved in … Palestine in the two years leading up to the first Intifada, Rio under the (Brazil) dictatorship, and the Mexican port city of Lázaro Cárdenas during attempts to halt the passage of NAFTA.”

‘Honored’ and ‘validated’

The Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellowship is run through the university’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry and the Mellon Foundation. The program supports current UArizona graduate students to carry out interdisciplinary humanities-centered research projects, and creative scholarly activities focused on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I feel incredibly honored to have received this fellowship,” Cordova said. “I also feel incredibly validated. I proposed a project and methodology that I would personally describe as ‘out there.’ When thinking about art as research, the outcome is not yet known.”

“I think mentoring/teaching will always be a part of my life,” Nathan Cordova says.

In addition to visiting the border in Nogales, Cordova plans to collaborate with 2023 MFA graduate Mariel Miranda in Tijuana, Mexico, in November for a portion of his “Ghost and Shadows” project. A section of the border wall, made of steel slats, ends in the Pacific Ocean in Tijuana.

Miranda helped give Cordova feedback for his fellowship project draft.

“Mariel and I became close friends during our time together here. Her work addresses issues of labor, among other themes, as does my project,” Cordova said. “We feed off each other’s ideas, passion and support.”

Cordova, who teaches as a graduate assistant at the School of Art, grew up in Portland, Oregon, and started “making photographs with intention” after attending the Young Musicians & Artists (YMA) program the summer before his junior year, he said.

“I couldn’t articulate this at the time, but the way I see it now, and encourage my students to see it, is to use the camera and the photographic idea to be the authors of their own meaning,” he said. “Every picture we make, even if it’s just a quick snapshot on our cell phone will always tell us something about ourselves.”

Added Cordova: “I always make sure to say that I don’t care what they (the students) make work about, so long as they care about the topic or issue, that’s what matters. Sometimes this initial exploration via an art project will lead a student to pursue an interest in this topic in other classes or other departments outside of the School of Art.”

Why the University of Arizona?

Cordova said he chose the School of Art because of the Photo, Video and Imaging faculty and reputation, and conversations with then-current MFA students.

Marocs Serafim, David Taylor, Martina Shenal and Sama are all amazing,” he said. “They are incredibly dedicated to their students. And not just that, they are driven and dedicated to their own art practices.”

One pleasant surprise, Cordova said, was connecting with Art History Assistant Professor Jeehey Kim, whose groundbreaking “Photography and Korea” book was just published. “I’ve loved her classes, and the material she teaches is robust and complex, yet totally relatable. She’s on my thesis committee as well,” he said.

Cordova is keeping his career options open after graduation in May 2024, but he said “mentoring or teaching will always be a part of my life.”

“Knowing what I know now because of my MFA experience thus far, I feel even more capable of sustaining a robust art practice while also maintaining a freelance career,” he said. “What I’m certain of is that I don’t want an office job. …

“I want to have and sustain a nourishing and impactful art practice that positions myself as an active agent in shaping the world, as much as that practice allows the world, in all its infinite complexities, to shape me in return.”

• Nathan Cordova’s website and Instagram
• Raymond Cordova bio, and online interview and radio interview about 1973 killing of Yemeni immigrant Nagi Daifallah

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