Spoils of war on exhibit at Stockholm museum

Society Materials 22 January 2008 07:34 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa )- An exhibition on the spoils of war including weapons, armour , books and paintings opened at the Royal Armoury in central Stockholm.

Entitled War-Booty, the museum hopes the exhibition will generate a discussion on history and attitudes, noting that many of the exhibits were considered rightful booty for hundreds of years.

Outgoing museum director Barbro Bursell said the exhibition was partially inspired by visitors' remarks. "Our guides often heard visitors say items on display were looted from other countries," Bursell said.

In addition to showing items looted or plundered, mainly during the 17th century when Swedish forces were active in mainland Europe, the museum plans several panel discussions on whether items held for hundreds of years should be regarded as loot.

It is a "sensitive" topic, Bursell said, adding that in her - and the museum's - view the items should be considered part of a joint European heritage, and that the Royal Armoury and other institutions and museums share responsibility for safeguarding them.

Sweden also suffered some looting, for instance when Russian forces raided Swedish coasts in the early 1700s when church bells were taken, but mainland Sweden was basically spared.

Under the laws of war in the 17th century codified by among others legal scholar Hugo Grotius in 1625, looting was seen as legitimate.

Today, removal of the artifacts on display would be deemed a war crime and occasionally demands are raised for the restitution of different kinds of war-booty to their "rightful owners," Bursell said, noting the difficulties in establishing ownership after hundreds of years.

The exhibition, due to run to the end of 2008, is believed to be the first time such trophies are shown in Sweden.

The items are displayed in four rooms in the Royal Armoury , located in a wing of the royal palace in central Stockholm. They include an armoured cap believed to have been owned by 12th century Swedish King Erik, armour , shields, weapons like pistols, sabres and rapiers; paintings, bowls, icons, chalices and croziers and books from various libraries and private collections.

Sweden's geographical location contributed to its cultural isolation and Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632) aimed to improve the country's cultural standing. This explains why there were "many books" among items raided after the 1621 conquest of Riga - capital of present day Latvia, Bursell said, adding that "the king wanted to build universities but had no books."

In addition, the king's forces brought back religious symbols from Roman-Catholic churches including crucifixes, for instance from campaigns in Germany during 1632, Bursell said.

"This was for progaganda reasons, a way of showing prestige," she said.

The Royal Armoury estimates that thousands of artefacts were brought back to Sweden. The exact amount is impossible to determine. In addition, many objects are believed to have gone missing either during the transport back to Sweden, for instance when ships sank in the Baltic Sea or were destroyed in fires like the 1697 blaze that destroyed the old Three Crowns castle in Stockholm.

Swedish Queen Christina (1624-1689), who abdicated 1654 and converted to Catholicism took some 40 paintings mainly of Italian masters with her when she left Sweden for Rome. Many of the paintings came from the collections of Emperor Rudolph II in Prague raided by Swedish troops.

The Devil's Bible, also known as Codex Cigas , that was taken when Prague was captured in 1648 is being digitilized and the original was on loan to the Czech Republic during 2007, Bursell said.

An exception to the general rule not to return items was made in 1974 when then Swedish prime minister Olof Palme returned what is known as the Stockholm Scroll during an official visit to Poland. The 15-metre long watercolour depicted scenes from Polish history including a 1605 procession in Krakow.