But despite its title this is not a book about emptying the great museums of the world of their many treasures. ‘Return’ is part of a wider movement of cultural treasures and need not only mean restitution in the sense of reparation for wrongful taking. It may also refer to other kinds of restoration, reinstatement, and even rejuvenation and reunification. Inevitable museums are often central to this issue. What emerges is that objects ‘migrate’ sometimes legitimately and sometimes not. There are historical, political, legal, material and aesthetic considerations which govern this. A congruent feature of war, colonialism, missionary and archaeological expeditions and other cataclysmic events has been the transportation of art treasures on a global scale. Sometimes objects have also been peacefully and uncontroversially collected and bought. Such movemnts are a fascinating reflector of human history. Hardly a nation or tribe has remained untouched by this experience. All manner of individuals have participated, from common looters to men who attained high rank and office. The route of objects has sometimes been no less colourful and dramatic than that of the persons who initiated their journey. (xiii)
I’ve just started reading this book, I’ll be sharing from it in the weeks to come.