Globalization and National Culture: Recent Trends toward a Liberal Exchange of Cultural Objects

By Siehr, Kurt G. | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, October 2005 | Go to article overview
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Globalization and National Culture: Recent Trends toward a Liberal Exchange of Cultural Objects

Siehr, Kurt G., Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


    A. Free Trade and Exchange
    B. Pillage and Plundering in Times of
       War and Dependence
    C. Expropriation and Nationalization
    A. Export of Cultural Objects
       1. Export Prohibitions
          a. National Export Prohibitions
          b. International Conventions
             i.   UNESCO Convention of
             ii.  UNIDROIT Convention of 1995
             iii. Export Restrictions in
                  International Communities
       2. Trends toward Liberalization
          a. Basic Rights as Barrier of
             Export Policy
          b. Liberal Practice to Grant Export
          c. Barriers for Return of Illegally
             Exported Objects
    B. Inalienable Cultural Objects
       1. Special Status of Cultural Objects
          a. Archaeological Objects
          b. Objects in State Museums
          c. Objects of the National Heritage
       2. Liberal Attitude with Regard to Foreign
          Restrictions of Trade
          a. No Enforcement of Foreign Trade
          b. No Implementation of Conventions
    C. International Lending of Cultural Objects
       1. Lending Restrictions
          a. Preservation of Cultural Objects
          b. Short-term Lending Only
          c. Danger in Foreign Countries
       2. Liberalization of Lending Restrictions
          a. Immunity Provisions
          b. Long-term Loans
          c. Multinational Museums


Almost two hundred years ago, Dr. Croke, Justice of the British Vice-Admiralty Court of Halifax, handed down the earliest reported judicial decision to treat works of art as cultural property. He reasoned: "They [the arts and sciences] are considered not as the peculium of this or of that nation, but as the property of mankind at large, and as belonging to the common interests of the whole species." (1) What did Dr. Croke mean by this statement? Did he want to praise good old times of free circulation of works of art between nations? Not at all! He was fighting against some of the bad customs of traditional warfare.

The Vice-Admiralty Court had to decide whether the Marquis de Somerueles--a U.S. merchant vessel seized by a British ship during the War of 1812 between the United States and England and brought to the seaport of Halifax--should be taken as prize or returned to the owners. (2) A suit for restitution was brought on behalf of the Academy of Arts of Philadelphia to which Mr. Joseph Allen Smith had donated twenty-one paintings and fifty-two prints bought in Italy and transported to America by the Marquis de Somerueles. (3) The lawsuit was successful. (4) Dr. Croke decided:

   Heaven forbid, that such an application [for restitution of the art
   objects] to the generosity of Great Britain should ever be
   ineffectual. The same law of nations, which prescribes that all
   property belonging to the enemy shall be liable to confiscation,
   has likewise its modifications and relaxations of that rule. The
   arts and sciences are admitted amongst all civilized nations, as
   forming an exception to the severe rights of warfare, and as
   entitled to favour and protection. (5)

Hence, Dr. Croke was confronted with some peculiarities of good-old times: the wartime limits of art trade, which survive to some extent today.

A. Free Trade and Exchange

People have traded since ancient times. In ancient times, people traded goods that today would qualify as cultural objects but were then normal goods of daily life (e.g., pottery), of aristocratic lifestyle (e.g., jewelry, statues for gardens, villas, or patios) or of funeral traditions (e.g., urns, sarcophagi, etc.). The creators of these goods were normally unknown artisans. Even if the creators were known (for example, Phidias or Ephronios), the creators may have speculated for higher prices while never having to face the export prohibitions of their home country or city.

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Globalization and National Culture: Recent Trends toward a Liberal Exchange of Cultural Objects


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