Two Crates from Leipzig
Artefacts Missing Since World War II Return to Berlin

07.02.2012 to 15.04.2012

Until the Second World War, the Museum of Byzantine Art - then know as the 'Early Christian Byzantine Collection' - was renowned, among other things, for its comprehensive collection of objects of everyday culture. At the outbreak of the war, all movable objects from the collection were packed up and brought to different storage sites for safekeeping. Whatever had not been destroyed by bombs or fire by the end of the war was then removed by Allied troops.

In 1956, the Western allies returned the objects to West Berlin, where they were later exhibited in the Dahlem museums. Most of the artefacts that had been kept in the Soviet Union were brought back to their original home, the Bode Museum, in 1958. However, from the 5500 artefacts that made up the museum's pre-war inventory, 1650 remained missing.

As was recently discovered, 44 of the missing objects had been mistakenly returned to Leipzig, together with others which belonged to the collection of the university's Egyptian museum (Georg Steindorff Museum). Stored in two modern crates, they were only recently identified as belonging to the Museum of Byzantine Art, and returned to Berlin. The 'returnees' are archaeological artefacts, mainly from Late Antique/Early Byzantine Egypt. One of the objects, a so-called head vase meticulously shaped to represent the ancient Egyptian god Bes, patron deity of pregnant women, women in childbirth and the newly born, dates back to the Roman period. Others, such as statuettes of women intended as votive offerings and small pottery vessels that were probably used in healing baths, come from Abu Mena, one of the largest Late Antique pilgrim sites near Alexandria.

A bronze lamp from the Moselle region - rarely ever found in collections of Byzantine art - as well as pottery lamps from North Africa, some bearing rare iconographic representations of the Spies from Canaan or of Christ standing on a lion between angels, for example, are also among the returned artefacts. These and other objects of everyday use, some of which display a high level of craftsmanship, offer glimpses into the everyday life in various provinces of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires during the Late Antique/Early Byzantine period.

The repatriation of this collection from Moscow to Berlin through Leipzig means that the Museum of Byzantine Art is having a part of its history restored to it. These artefacts, along with three others not yet classified, form a small special exhibition which can be seen from 6 February to 25 March 2012 in rooms 110 and 113 of the Bode Museum.

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