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Czech National Gallery must return Gothic painting to church

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Prague, Aug 7 (CTK) – The Czech National Gallery (NG) will have to release the valuable 14th-century Gothic panel painting of Madonna of Veveri, which enjoys the status of national cultural heritage, to the Catholic Church, a Prague district court ruled Friday.

The court met a lawsuit filed by the church, in particular the Catholic parish in Veverska Bityska, south Moravia. It claimed the return of the Madonna in accordance with the restitution law, under which 16 churches would be returned their property confiscated by the communist regime and financial compensation for the property that cannot be returned.

Both parties in the dispute failed to reach agreement on the painting’s release before the court proceedings.

The church’s lawyer Frantisek Severin said the NG had refused an offer of a free 50-year loan of the painting in exchange for recognising the church’s ownership before filing the lawsuit.

However, the NG says the church has failed to unambiguously prove its former ownership of the painting. It said the state had acquired the painting before the communist coup in February 1948, which is the church restitution deadline.

However, the court disagreed with this opinion.

The Catholic Church argues that there is no document from the mid-18th century until 1958 to prove that the church lost the artifact.

The Madonna of Veveri, from the first half of the 14th century, is ascribed to an artist close to the Master of Vyssi Brod, south Bohemia. Until 1938 it decorated the interior of a church at the Veveri Castle that is closed now.

Documents from the 1930s show that the nearby Veverska Bityska parish owned the painting. However, in connection with the then political events, the painting gradually went to the State Forests Directorate in the late 1930s, then to the Agriculture Ministry, and in 1958 it was acquired by the NG.

According to the restitution law, churches are to be returned land and real estate worth 75 billion, stolen from them by the communist regime, and given 59 billion crowns plus inflation in financial compensation for unreturned property during the following 30 years. Simultaneously, the state will gradually cease financing churches.

The Catholic Church will get most of the total sum, or 47.2 billion crowns plus inflation.

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