Belgian Town Demands France Return a Rubens That Was Looted During the French Revolution

As restitution cases go, this one reaches pretty far back. During the French Revolution, the French army took a Rubens painting from the cathedral in Tournai. The work, titled “The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus,” ended up in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes. Now the Belgian town is demanding the work’s return.

Rudy Demotte, president of the French Community of Belgium, has written to French president François Hollande and culture minister Aurélie Filippetti to ask that the painting be returned, Le Journal des Arts reports. He made the same request to the French government last year but received no reply.

The painting was commissioned by the bishop of Tournai in 1635 and paid for by the townspeople. It was one of a pair by Rubens, and the second work, “The Freeing of the Souls from Purgatory,” was looted at the same time but returned in 1816. Napoleon gave “The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus” to Nantes in 1801, and, despite requests by various bishops of Tournai during the 19th century, the painting remained in France. Now, having just completed a large-scale renovation of its cathedral, Tournai hopes to reunite the two paintings.

According to France TV, in his letter, Demotte evokes “the close relationship of friendship and proximity that unites Belgium and France.” But the splintered political situation in Belgium may have worked against him. Demotte represents the French-speaking population of Wallonia and Brussels, but last year, French culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand refused to comment on his request, arguing that France “has not received any official demand from the Belgian federal state.”

— Kate Deimling, ARTINFO France

(Image: Detail of Peter Paul Rubens, “The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus,” 1635. Courtesy the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes.)