Restitution: Madonna Lactans Statuette Returned to Jakob Goldschmidt’s Heirs

Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst

A statuette of a Madonna Lactans (the Virgin Mary nursing an infant Jesus) from the 16th century was restituted to the heirs of the Jewish banker and entrepreneur Jakob Goldschmidt on Friday, 20 January 2023. The piece had been acquired in 1936 for the Skulpturensammlung of the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (then known as the Königliche Museen) and had been on loan to the Museum Ulm since 1993.

About Jakob Goldschmidt

Jakob Goldschmidt (1882–1955) was a proiminent banker and entrepreneur in the Weimar Republic who was persecuted for racial and political reasons, and on account of his Jewish faith. He was subjected to the Nazis’ oppressive tactics very early on due to the significant role he played in the financial world of the day. Goldschmidt fled first to Switzerland in April 1933, before moving to New York in 1936. He also endured a substantial degree of economic hardship. In 1940, he was stripped of his German citizenship, and the following year, all of his remaining assets in Germany were seized by the Nazis. In the latter years of the Second World War, Goldschmidt succeeded in rebuilding a career in the USA – albeit never to the same degree as in Germany – and sponsored a number of different cultural institutions. He passed away in New York in 1955.

Jakob Goldschmidt had amassed an extensive art collection since the First World War. After emigrating, he managed to export some of it via the Netherlands, including artworks by Impressionists and his collection of porcelains. A significant portion of the collection, however, which was used in the meantime as collateral for loans, remained in Berlin and was sold at a number of different auctions. The Madonna Lactans statuette was located in Goldschmidt’s stately home at Matthäikirchstrasse 31 (later renamed and known today as Herbert-von-Karajan-Strasse) in the Tiergarten district of Berlin, which was decorated with several works of Renaissance art. The house was sold in July 1933, and the artworks were relocated to his office.

Goldschmidt’s Collection and the Madonna Lactans Statuette

On 23 June 1936, roughly 300 works from Goldschmidt’s collection were anonymously auctioned at the Hugo Helbing auction house, with the Madonna Lactans statuette sold as lot number 41. The art dealer Johannes Hinrichsen, who purchased the item for 8,000 Reichsmark, sold it to the Skulpturensammlung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin later that same year.

According to the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, this auction constitutes a seizure of property as a result of persecution. Even if it is no longer possible to fully reconstruct all of the details surrounding the object’s acquisition, there is no doubt that Jakob Goldschmidt was subjected to Nazi persecution, which in turn caused him to suffer a considerable degree of financial hardship. The Dresdner Bank in particular became increasingly uncooperative in their dealings with him, thereby impeding an amicable, mutually agreeable resolution of his financial affairs. As a result, Jakob Goldschmidt had no choice but to accept the liquidation of a large part of his art collection, including the Madonna Lactans. It is against this historical backdrop that the SPK has now restituted the statuette.