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Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man Rediscovered

Posted in Art Recovery/Theft

Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man, looted by the Nazis in 1939 and missing since 1945, has been rediscovered in a bank vault in an undisclosed location.  The painting, which dates to 1513-1514 and is widely considered the most important work still missing since the war, was confiscated from the Czartoryski family collection in Krakow in 1939 for Hitler’s planned Führermuseum in Linz.  It disappeared shortly before the end of the war after it was taken by Hans Frank, Governor-General in occupied Poland, for his own personal use.   

On August 1st a spokesman for Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Office for the Restitution of Cultural Goods told the Polish media, “Most importantly, the work was not lost in the turmoil of the war. It has not been burnt or destroyed. It exists. It is safely waiting in a region of the world where the law favors us.”  In a subsequent statement, however, the Foreign Affairs’ Office clarified: “Through a reliable source, we have known for some time that the [portrait] is in a bank vault in a certain country. But we do not know the exact location.”  A statement on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website maintains: "We have no information as to where exactly the image is… however, we can confirm that [the ministry] continues to monitor all signals reaching us about the image’s location."  Nevertheless, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is confident the painting will be returned to Poland. 

The oil painting was purchased by Poland’s Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski in 1789, together with Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, which was also seized by the Nazis but was discovered by the Allies at the end of the war.  Since the war, the Czartoryski family has made consistent attempts to find Portrait of a Young Man, an effort that was renewed after the Cold War in 1991. 

While the subject of the painting has not been identified, many art historians believe the work to be a self-portrait, as the facial features resemble those of Raphael as seen in the fresco The School of Athens, which also contains a self-portrait of the master.

(This entry was drafted with the assistance of Victoria Sears Goldman).