Provenance research

At the Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, which took place in December 1998 in Washington DC, 44 countries signed up to 11 core principles, which aim to assist in resolving issues relating to Nazi-confiscated art.

Washington Principles


Since then public museums, libraries and archives, in particular in Germany, have seen it as their duty to examine their collections and identify cultural property possibly lost as a result of persecution under the Nazi dictatorship. The Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe actively strives to fulfill this obligation. The art historian Tessa Rosebrock has been responsible for provenance research of works in our collection since April 2010. This specialist post is being funded for a period of three years by the Bureau for Provenance Investigation & Research in Berlin.

Bureau for Provenance Investigation & Research


Provenance research is the exact investigation into the artworks’ origin and history of ownership before they were brought to the museum. The chief aim is to compile an unbroken chain of documented ownership. Under special scrutiny are additions to the collection of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe that occurred in the years from 1933 to 1945. The principle focus of attention is on paintings that were acquired during the Second World War from the Generalverwaltung der oberrheinischen Museen, or ‘general administration of Upper Rhenish museums’.

Through the intense study of the objects and the systematic assessment of source material in both our own archives and those of other institutions, we trace the channels through which the work left the artist’s studio, whether it was placed for sale on the art market, the conditions surrounding its sale, and who its previous owners were.

Our aim is to fill in any gaps in the provenance established to date and to uncover any possible illegitimate changes of ownership. The findings of our research work are then carried over to the Kunsthalle’s own catalogues, of which two are due for publication in the near future. The findings are also included in the IMDAS object database.

DFG Project: Cartoons and designs for stained glass from the 16th and 17th century in the collection of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

From 2006 to 2012 the DFG (German Research Foundation) provided funding for the scientific examination of an extensive collection of Scheibenrisse, cartoons for windows, which are among the oldest works in the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. The project was led by Dr. Ariane Mensger. 

A cartoon is a design drawing made for transferring the composition from paper onto glass. Such drawings were created as the result of the practice of patrons donating a small glass picture for display in public places or private homes. The central element in such Kabinettscheibe (small heraldic panels), and therefore also of the cartoons, is the patron’s coat of arms, which is inserted into an architectural frame and accompanied by figurative scenes.

The Kunsthalle Karlshruhe’s collection of cartoons for such panels is one of the most comprehensive and important in the world. The aim of the project was to precisely assess the array of material for the first time in its entirety. From an art-historical aspect, the project initially entailed compiling a thorough record of all technical data, regarding, for instance, technique of drawing, the paper support and watermarks. This was followed by the attribution of the drawings to individual artists.

From a historical perspective, the identification of the coats of arms and heraldic symbols presents the most interesting challenge. Valuable information on the daily life of town and country can be gained through the evaluation of the accompanying scenes around the heraldic element which depict people in activities specific to their occupation. Questions relating to the causes and preconditions for the custom whereby patrons bestowed such painted glass heraldic panels for public or semi-public display, and to their social and political function should ultimately help place the material in its wider cultural and sociological context.

The project forms an essential contribution to research on glass painting in the Renaissance and Baroque periods in the Upper Rhine region that comprises parts of France, Switzerland and Germany. At the same time, it feeds into the recently revived scholarly interest in this genre, which is increasingly turning to the art of glass painting of the Renaissance and Baroque, after having extensively explored the monumental stained glass works of the Middle Ages.

Thanks to the funding from the DFG, it has now been possible to conduct a scholarly review of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe’s collection of Scheibenrisse cartoons and to disseminate information on them to a wider public.

© 2017 Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe