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Priceless painting looted by Nazis during World War II returns to Poland from Japan

This handout picture provided by the Polish Institute in Tokyo on Wednesday, May 31, 2023 shows the precious 16th century baroque painting 'Madonna with Child' attributed to Alessandro Turchi, which was looted from a private Polish collection by Nazi Germany during World War II, and has been found in Japan and returned to Polish ownership. (Polish Institute in Tokyo/ Przemyslaw Sliwinski via AP)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- A priceless 16th century Italian painting that was looted by Nazi Germany during World War II and discovered in Japan has been returned to Poland, authorities in Warsaw said Wednesday.

    The "Madonna with Child" attributed to Alessandro Turchi, is the latest of some 600 looted artistic pieces that Poland has successfully repatriated. More than 66,000 so-called war losses remain unaccounted for. The painting was handed over during a ceremony at Poland's Embassy in Tokyo Wednesday.

    Culture Minister Piotr Glinski told reporters in Warsaw that the baroque painting was on the Nazis' list of the 521 most valuable pieces of art among the tens of thousands of artworks that they looted when they occupied Poland between 1939-45.

    He said it was "not easy" to explain the history behind the looted works as well as the need for their return. But he said the "Madonna with Child" was returned following negotiations with the Japanese side and the "Mainichi Auction Inc. as well as the person who was in possession of the painting have decided to return it to Poland, without any costs."

    Agata Modzelewska, head of the ministry's department for restitution of culture items, said the Polish side always stresses in negotiations that returning looted art is "the best moral and ethical gesture."

    The painting was identified by ministry experts at an auction in Tokyo in 2022. It comes from a collection of Poland's 18th century aristocrat Stanislaw Kostka-Potocki. In 1823, the painting was listed among art works belonging to another Polish aristocrat, Henryk Lubomirski, in the town of Przeworsk. It was looted during the war and was sold at a New York auction in the late 1990s.

    "More and more of the looted objects are appearing at auctions because the memory (of their past) has weakened and the persons who are in their possession now do not have the full knowledge or are not aware of where the artwork is coming from," Modzelewska told The Associated Press.

    Poland has for decades actively sought to repatriate art looted during the war by the Nazis and Soviet troops.

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