Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

Provenance Research in the Jena Collection of Ancient Small-Scale Art – The Problem of Acquisitions during National Socialism

funding area Nazi confiscated art Grant recipient Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena State Thuringia Website* Contact person
  • Prof. Dr. Eva Winter
    Telephone: +49 (0) 3641 944 820
  • Rita Horn M. A.
    Telephone: +49 (0) 3641 944 808
Project type Short-term project to investigate matter of current interest Funding duration
  1. December 2015 to November 2016


Archeological collections, the majority of which were established in the 19th century and in many places integrated into university teaching collections, are characterized by a diverse array of purchases, donations and endowments. In December 1940, 12 oil lamps, most of which are Roman in origin, and a handle fragment were donated to the Antiquity Collection of the University of Jena (FSU) by a private individual.

The following factors led researchers to investigate the origin of this group of objects: The University of Jena archive contains no acquisition documents for the clay lamps labeled by the donor, Otto Wohlberedt. At the same time, investigations undertaken from time to time into the donor and his own descriptions of his life (O. Wohlberedt, Erinnerungen aus meinem Leben (Jena 1939)) reinforce initial indications relating to the possible origin of the items. He claims to have purchased the clay lamps in 1939 on the Roman art market, yet no evidence could be found that he visited Rome at that time. In fact, he had spent around two months in Libya, at the time occupied by German-allied Italian forces, and was the guest of Hermann Göring while he was there. It is also interesting to note that he was a partner in Triebes AG and a long-standing factory manager at I. G. Farben. These positions enabled him to secure contact over the years (up to 1939) with high-ranking functionaries in the German and Italian elites of the time and made him someone who knew how to take advantage of the possibilities offered by his international and, in particular, his German contacts on the eve of the Second World War. Suspicions regarding the provenance of his donations were heightened by the fact that the living conditions of the Italian-Jewish population had worsened drastically when, under pressure from the German Reich, Italy passed its own racial laws, the leggi razziali, in 1938.

The aim of the project, initiated by the Chair of Classical Archaeology, was to investigate his political, legal and personal background in order to determine whether the items that had found their way into the collection of a public institution might be property looted directly from North Africa or from Italian-Jewish ownership.

Specifically, researchers examined the archives in Jena (university archives, city archives, Ernst-Haeckel-Haus archive) and the city archive in Triebes/Zeulenroda for files on the donor and possible links to the art market in those years, in search of a possible “Nazi context”. Requests were also made to the archives in Gera, Greiz and Weimar and the archives of Hoechst. The research, particularly work on material from the Ernst-Haeckel Haus, attests to the fact that Wohlberedt traveled widely in North Africa in the 1930s (Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and – most significantly – Algeria and Libya). He visited these countries privately and always showed a great interest in antique lamps, besides his chief interest of flora and fauna. He appears to have bought antique lamps during his travels. This is suggested by the institute’s own files, which came to light during the research and show that the 12 lamps and the handle fragment were only a part of a much larger collection of lamps. Further clarification is needed on the whereabouts of the rest of Wohlberedt’s lamps. It has been possible to trace only a few of them in the Berlin antique collection. In addition, a comprehensive archeological analysis of the oil lamps determined the high probability of their antique provenance from the North African region.

The results of the project were published in a summarized form in the book accompanying the annual meeting of the Deutscher Archäologen-Verband (German Archeologists Association) at the end of 2016, and also as a comprehensive article that will appear in the Jena archeological journals.

Photo detail: benefactor’s sticker “Rom Wohlberedt 1939” Photo detail: benefactor’s sticker “Rom Wohlberedt 1939” Photo detail: benefactor’s sticker “Rom Wohlberedt 1939” Source:  Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

© Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, March 2017