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National Gallery returns Gothic painting to Catholic Church

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Brno, March 7 (CTK) – The Czech National Gallery (NG) returned the Madonna of Veveri 14th-century Gothic panel painting, which enjoys the status of national cultural heritage, to the Catholic parish in Veverska Bityska, south Moravia, yesterday, on the basis of a court verdict.
The valuable painting was delivered in a special box, under strict security measures, to the Diocesan Museum in Brno where it is to be displayed for long. The NG’s car arrived in Brno from Prague after 13:00.
The Gothic painting had been displayed on the NG premises for decades.
However, a court ruled last year that the NG must return the artifact to the Veverska Bityska parish.
The NG wanted to loan the painting for free, but the parish refused it.
The dispute about the painting lasted for long. The NG hesitated to release it, and this is why the parish threatened it with distraint proceedings.
The NG filed a petition for an appellate review with the Supreme Court in the case, but it does not have the effect of suspending the verdict, and this is why it had to release the painting to the church.
The painting needs some time to acclimatise, and this is why the transport box with it will be opened only after 24 hours, on Tuesday, museum director Martin Motycka said.
Then, experts from Brno will study the painting before it is displayed in the prepared air-conditioned glass case, Motycka added.
Visitors can see it as of March 16, within the Vita Christi exhibition.
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.
The Prague Municipal Court has ruled that the state clearly declared its ownership right to the painting by an official letter in 1958 only, and this is why the church restitution law applies to the artifact.
However, the NG says the church has failed to unambiguously prove its former ownership of the painting and that the state acquired the painting before the communist coup in February 1948, which is the church restitution deadline.
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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