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German museum to repatriate pair of Joseon era statues to Korea

The Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg, Germany, will return a pair of Joseon era stone statues to South Korea, the Overseas Cultural Heritage Foundation announced Thursday.

The two statues will be returned on March 19. Estimated to have been produced in the late 16th or early 17th century, the statues were initially believed to have been shipped to Germany after a German national acquired them from a local antique shop in Seoul in 1983. The museum purchased the pair in 1987.

A pair of stone statues of civil officials from the Joseon era (OCHF)
A pair of stone statues of civil officials from the Joseon era (OCHF)

However, the Hamburg-based museum later discovered that the acquisition process had been illicit during Korea’s National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage’s on-site surveys of the museum’s inventory of Korean cultural heritage between 2014 and 2016.

In 2016, the Hamburg museum confirmed that the items had been illegally shipped to Germany and informed the Korean research institute of its findings.

The OCHF took up the case in 2017 and began working with the museum for repatriation of the statues. The German federal government and the government of Hamburg in November last year made the final decision to return the cultural heritage to Korea.

“The museum, as well as Barbara Plankensteiner, director of the Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg, were both very cooperative throughout the whole process,” an OCHF official said.

Plankensteiner is a member of the advisory board at the German Lost Art Foundation, an institution dedicated to repatriation of art looted during the colonial era.

“The recent return of the cultural heritage also appears to be in line with the growing awareness in European countries about repatriation of cultural heritage rooted in the colonial period,” the OCHF official added.

Meanwhile, the Hamburg museum’s collection has some 2,700 items from Korea, according to OCHF data. The number of pieces of cultural heritage in Germany is estimated to total about 10,000, according to separate data.By Shim Woo-hyun (