Researching the origins of artefacts in our collections is one of the key responsibilities of all curatorial and research staff at the museums. However, the stipulations that require museums to systematically investigate their holdings for cultural assets acquired through Nazi persecution, in particular Jewish property, have become more complex and extensive since the Washington Principles were agreed in 1998 as well as the resolution passed by the board of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz in 1999.
To meet these demands, a full-time position for provenance research at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin was established in 2008. The primary goal was to bring together, in one location, the various strands of often highly specialised and exacting historical research undertaken by the museums in response to ongoing restitution claims for works from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s collections. In this way, the necessary and thorough investigation of all museum objects acquired since 1933 can be better coordinated and advanced. The office is situated at the Zentralarchiv, where all existing records on the history of the museums are preserved for posterity. This location was an obvious choice as the archive’s comprehensive and manifold historical resources form the starting point for all research into the provenance of objects from the collections.
At the heart of provenance research at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is the question of ownership which, considering the breadth and diversity of the Berlin collections and their more than 180-year history, not only covers the period of National Socialism but also the changes in ownership that occurred in the 1920s, e.g., the expropriation of royal assets in 1926, and during the periods of the Soviet occupation in the eastern zone of Berlin and the wider GDR. Further responsibilities of provenance research are to identify objects that belong to third parties and to reconstruct how these objects came to the museums, as well as to establish proof of the origins of works that were assumed to have been lost during the war but have since reappeared on the art market. The provenance research office can also provide invaluable assistance when acquisitions are planned by any of the collections at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and when details of objects that were given or accepted on permanent loan in the past need to be clarified.
The systematic research of the collections with regard to cultural assets that were looted or acquired through Nazi persecution, in particular Jewish property, was first carried out for acquisitions made by the museums between 1933 and 1945. This research resulted in numerous objects, primarily from the Nationalgalerie, the Kupferstichkabinett, the Kunstgewerbemuseum and the Gemäldegalerie, being returned to their rightful owners. Parallel to this endeavour, work began on the investigation of acquisitions from the post-war period, with emphasis on modernist works from the Nationalgalerie and the Kupferstichkabinett. Several research projects undertaken by the individual collections support these investigations.
In addition, the custodians of the collections continually undertake provenance research as part of their day-to-day work, the results of which can be seen in catalogues of the collections and exhibitions, and are also documented in databases and online catalogues.
Doris Antonides-Heidelmeyer holds a degree in cultural and media management and studied theatre studies in Aix-en-Provence, France. She has worked for the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz since May 2016. Between 2017 and 2019, she was PREP (German-American Provenance Research Exchange Program for Museum Professionals) project coordinator in the SPK’s Department of the President. Since 2020, Doris Antonides-Heidelmeyer has been in charge of coordinating provenance research projects across the Zentralarchiv and the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin’s Department of Early Printed Books.
Dr Julia Binter studied cultural and social anthropology as well as theatre, film and media studies in Vienna, Paris, Brussels and Oxford. In 2017, she curated the exhibition The Blind Spot at the Kunsthalle Bremen. She is currently overseeing the collaborative research project on the Namibian colonial collections at the Ethnologische Museum Berlin.
Historian Dr Sven Haase began his career in provenance research with a traineeship at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Arbeitsstelle für Provenienzforschung and in the Generaldirektion. He has been responsible for provenance research in the field of European art since 2014. Between 2016 and 2021, he served as a board member for the Arbeitskreis für Provenienzforschung. In 2018, he curated the exhibition The Lives of Images: Provenances at Museum Berggruen Picasso – Klee – Braque – Matisse and worked on the exhibition Max Beckmann: The Barbara Göpel Bequest at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett.
Historian Dr Christine Howald (deputy director of the Zentralarchiv) spent many years in Berlin, Paris and Beijing researching the history of various collections in a number of different contexts. After this she established the research project Tracing East Asian Art (TEAA) at the Technische Universität Berlin. She now oversees provenance research on the collections from East, Southeast and South Asia at the Museum für Asiatische Kunst and the Ethnologisches Museum and related collaboration projects.
Stefanie Janke studied classical and ancient studies in Berlin, with a focus on Near Eastern archaeology. She participated in excavations in Germany and in various international collaboration projects in Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia organised by the German Archaeological Institute and the Freie Universität Berlin. Her work has focused in particular on the documentation and reappraisal of archaeological material and findings. She has been working as a trainee assistant curator in the field of provenance research at the Zentralarchiv since January 2020. Her current research focus is on the systematic indexing of the objects acquired by the Museum für Islamische Kunst between 1933 and 1945.
Ilja Labischinski studied ancient American studies, anthropology and history of the Americas in Bonn, Berlin and Madrid. He worked as coordinating curator for the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst at the Humboldt Forum, where he curated a collaborative exhibition project on Francis La Flesche, and in his research work, laid the foundations for the return of objects to the Chugach in Alaska. In the future, his work will focus primarily on expanding current collaborations with the Chugach Alaska Corporation as well as researching the provenance of the human remains held in the Ethnologisches Museum’s collection.
Dr Laura Puritani studied “Lettere classiche” with a focus on archaeology and classical philology in Pavia, Italy. She completed a traineeship as a research associate at the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel and worked as an assistant professor in the Archaeology Department of Universität Marburg. She began working as a provenance researcher at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in 2013, initially on a project basis, and in 2017 she published a catalogue series on the external holdings of the Antikensammlung. Today, she is responsible for provenance research in the field of archaeology.
Birgit Sporleder studied classical archaeology, cultural studies and art history in Berlin and Havana. Drawing on her Master’s thesis on the early 20th-century antiquities trade, she curated the exhibition Gefunden, gehandelt, gestundet hosted by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin’s Winckelmann Institute collections. From 2018, she worked as a trainee assistant curator at the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. During her traineeship, her work focused on the archaeological collections from Central America. She currently works as a research associate for provenance research at the museum, and continues to focus on collections from Central America.
Art historian Dr Hanna Strzoda has been working on provenance research projects for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin since 2010. She began her work here investigating the collections of West Berlin’s "Galerie des 20. Jahrhunderts“ in a joint project between the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz and the State of Berlin. She then went on to carry out research on the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s “Drawings Collection” held in the Kupferstichkabinett, finishing in 2016. Dr Hanna Strzoda is currently researching the former art collections of the Dresdner Bank, which were acquired by the Prussian state in 1935 and transferred to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. She is responsible for art collections, in particular the large-scale collections found in the Kupferstichkabinett, the Kunstgewerbemuseum and the Kunstbibliothek.
Kristin Weber-Sinn studied African studies (with a focus on history) and ethnology in Cologne and Berlin. In collaboration with four historians, she created the online audio guide “Kolonialismus im Kasten?” (2013) as a critical intervention into the permanent exhibition of the DHM. She has been researching sensitive collections from contemporary Tanzania at the Ethnologisches Museum since 2016. This work has been carried out in collaboration with Tanzanian colleagues at the National Museum of Tanzania, the University of Dar es Salaam and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (research and exhibition).
Dr Petra Winter, director of the Zentralarchiv, studied history, Polish studies and archive studies in Berlin, Krakow and Potsdam. In 2008, she received her PhD in modern history from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin with a study on the “twin museums” in a divided Berlin between 1945–1958. From 2000 to 2008 she worked as an archivist at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Zentralarchiv. From 2008, she worked as a provenance researcher for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and at the same time took over as deputy head of the Zentralarchiv. Since 2015, she has been head (since 2020 director) of the Zentralarchiv and of provenance research at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. In addition to provenance research, her research interests include the history of museums in the 19th and 20th centuries.