Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More Comments on de Valette's Sword

Here are some interesting comments about de Valette's sword from numismatist and scholar Alan Walker. He has graciously allowed me to post them on the CPO blog.

I just read your blog on the campaign to get back Grand Master Jean de la Valette's ceremonial sword and dagger, which are apparently now in the Louvre. He was given these ornamental weapons by Philip II of Spain in 1565 to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish invasion force. It would be interesting to see what they look like but I can't find them in any simple way. In any event, after his death in 1568, it would seem that they were carefully kept (perhaps as a dedication in a church - someone must know but we are not told) until they were looted by the French in 1798. Now the French of the Revolution, like the Nazis, were stupendous looters of works of art, books, coins, everything imaginable, which they brought back to adorn a great museum in Paris. This is just like Hitler's planned museum in Linz. After Napoleon was finally defeated vast amounts of looted art was returned to museums, churches and wherever all over Europe. This was thought to be correct and was a demand that the French government basically fulfilled. However, by that time Malta had become a British possession and stayed that way until 1964. So what happened with this sword at this point? In fact, what happened with whatever other art works that the French went off with from Malta in 1798? Were some or any returned to Malta, or did they just stay wherever they went? This is something we need to know.

The reason why I say this is that de la Valette was, because of his actions as Grand Master, one of Malta's great heros. Thus, something that belonged to him would be of great resonance for Malta (what else do they have that belongs to him - I don't know). So a demand that France give something back that was clearly looted in a obviously stolen sense (i.e., it was not dug out of the ground or found in ruins or in some way you could say was ownershipless - it was in fact appropriated from some kind of institution) is not at all far fetched. These items were, if they were in a church let's say (we don't know do we ) that would mean that they had been seeable by the public and were known to them over several hundred years. This also means they were really part of the nation's culture (or cultural heritage). This is very much in opposition to all those ancient objects that people scream about since they - let's say the Eupronios Krater for example - are not in any real sense part of a nation's heritage since they had no influence whatsoever on later generations of the people involved. If, for example, people could see the sword of the great hero (perhaps only on special days - we don't know) they could be inspired by it, and this could continue over some 230 years (like religious statues or paintings that stood in churches since the 14th century and were revered by generations of people for generations), we can really talk about heritage. And so, this is the kind of thing that ought, for very good reasons, be considered for repatriation from France to Malta: And not necessarily to SMOM, Valette may have been the Order's Grandmaster,but his connection to the Island is much more important.

We really aren't talking about something that is the same as a coin or an antiquity - it is a specific item that was given by a known person in a known event to a known person, and which stayed where it belonged until it was 'officially stolen'

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