13 August 2011

From Al-Andalus to the Jeu de Paume: A Lesson in Provenance, Valencia Style

by Martin Terrazas

After initial dramatic seizures of major Jewish collections in the Paris region during the summer and fall of 1940 by the foot soldiers of the German Embassy in Paris (the Geheime Feld Polizei—literally, Secret Field Police—or GFP), the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) seized control of the Nazi-ordered plunder of Jewish-owned art in occupied France, as well as in all territories overrun by German troops. In Paris, the ERR art historians and experts came upon thousands of decorative objects owned by the likes of Jean A. Seligmann and his brothers André and Arnold; Edouard, James-Armand, Alexandrine, Guy, Henri, and Philippe de Rothschild; the Bacri brothers, Georges Wildenstein, and Paul Rosenberg. Among those objects which their units had confiscated and transferred first to the Louvre and from there to the Jeu de Paume, were priceless decorative art objects and in particular ceramics from Valencia, Spain.

What seems like simple, blue-and-white ceramics holds a plethora of plot lines. These decorative objects have a unique history, warping cultures and time together, perhaps in many ways that, come World War II, their Jewish owners and Fascist looters had not previously known.

While many scholars trace the craft back to the Abbasids in Sāmarrā’, under the reign of Jaume II of Aragon, the tradition was brought from Al-Andalus, in particular its capitals of Córdoba and Granada and manufacturing centers of Triana and Úbeda, to the banks of the Turia (Guadalaviar). Under its Catholic adoptees, this hand-crafted pottery gained worldwide fame, helped Valencia’s port become a principal Mediterranean shipping call, and created a Spanish ceramic industry that despite various governments, bloody civil war, dictatorship, outsourcing, economic depression, and indifference by younger generations, is still maintained today in places such as Manises, Paterna, L’Alcora, Muel, Villafeliche, Talavera de la Reina, Puente de Arzobispo, Barcelona and Reus.

From the Rothschild Collection, Paris, France:

Spanish-Moorish vase, 16th c.
Source:ERR Project via Bundesarchiv
Spanish-Moorish Plate, ca. 1429
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv

Spanish-Moorish majolica plate, 16th c.
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv

Spanish-Moorish plate, early 17th c.
Source: ERR Project via Bundesarchiv