Research & Preserve
Table of Contents

Provenance research

Since 2010, the MK&G has been researching the provenance history of its collection and disclosing its findings. Provenance investigates whether the art objects in the museum were acquired legally or whether they include unlawfully seized cultural objects. These include Nazi looted property, especially from Jewish ownership, cultural property seizures in the Soviet occupation zone and in the former GDR, as well as acquisitions from colonial contexts. Today, the search for encumbered collection objects is the core task of provenance research.


Dr. Silke Reuther

Ein alter Schrank gefüllt mit Silberbesteck.


In November 2018, the MK&G was able to restitute a silver Kiddush cup from the Judaica collection of the German-Jewish merchant and art collector Max Raphael Hahn (1880-1942), who was persecuted by the Nazi regime, to his family. The identification of the 1939 confiscated cup in the MK&G's preserved silver collection from Jewish ownership was possible on the basis of a historical photograph.

In cooperation with Max Raphael Hahn's grandson, who lives in Canada, funding was successfully applied for from the German Centre for the Loss of Cultural Property in Magdeburg for the research project to reconstruct Max Raphael Hahn's Judaica collection.

The aim is to identify the objects, determine their whereabouts and clarify the circumstances of their loss during the Nazi regime. In the process, insights are to be gained into the system of utilisation of confiscated cultural property - especially Jewish ritual objects - under the National Socialist regime. In the first funding year, the project was carried out by the provenance researcher Dr Tanja Baensch, Berlin, from 1 March 2020 to 28 February 2021. From 1 September 2021, the provenance researcher Janine Schmitt M.A., Munich, will take over further research.

Further information on the objects published in the Lost Art database can be found here.

Porcelain, bronzes, picture scrolls - thousands of objects from China in German museum collections were sourced during actions of looting that took place around 1900 in the context of the so-called "Boxer War". In most cases, their problematic history is unknown, and the various ways in which they found their way into German collections have only been researched in a cursory manner. For the first time, seven German museums have joined forces in this project in order to systematically examine their holdings for looted goods from the Boxer War and to jointly research their provenance histories.

Fighters referred to in Western literature as "boxers" were the driving force of an anti-Imperialist movement in northern China in the late 19th century called Yìhétuán Yùndòng (義和團運動, Movement of Associations for Justice and Harmony). The insurgents initially attacked Christian missionaries and their Chinese supporters, and soon also turned on foreign businessmen and diplomats. In May 1900, the violent riots spread to Beijing and culminated in a siege of the foreign legations in June. An eight-nation alliance, which included the German Empire, sent troops to China. During the so-called 'Boxer War of 1900-1901, not only were the rebels violently suppressed, but Beijing was also looted and burned. Thousands of works of art and other artefacts from the looting subsequently found their way directly or indirectly into German museum collections, for example via the art trade, where they are still kept and exhibited today.

The project "Traces of the ‘Boxer War’ in German Museum Collections" examines both objects in the individual institutions and the actors involved in their theft, transport and trade. In doing so, historical mechanisms of collecting these sensitive objects in Germany will be made visible. In addition to researching the collection holdings, the goal of the project is to publish a methodological guide. This will create the basis for a more comprehensive examination of the Chinese collection holdings in national and international museums in the context of the 'Boxer War'.

"Traces of the ‘Boxer War’ in German Museum Collections" is a collaborative project by the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin (Zentralarchiv, Museum für Asiatische Kunst and Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), the Museum am Rothenbaum - Kulturen und Künste der Welt and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, the GRASSI Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Leipzig, the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt am Main and the Museum Fünf Kontinente in Munich, carried out in cooperation with Palace Museum Beijing.

The project is funded by the German Lost Art Foundation and runs from November 2021 to June 2024 (Project ID: KK_LA03_I2021).

Workshop on 2/3 March 2023: Carried Away! Research into the Provenance of Museum Objects from the "Boxer War"



Schubladen gefüllt mit Silberbesteck.

Looted Art? A Marble Panel from the Afghan Royal Palace in Ghazni in the Collection of the MK&G

Edited by Sabine Schulze und Silke Reuther, on the occasion of the exhibition Looted Art? at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, 2018. With contributions by Julio Bendzu-Sarmiento, Claus-Peter Haase, Stefan Heidemann, Frank Hildebrandt, Tobias Mörike, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, Silke Reuther und Sabine Schulze. 80 pages, soft cover, ISBN 978-3-923859-89-4, 9,90 Euro. Available in German only at the museum shop.

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Looted Art? The Benin Bronzes

Edited by Sabine Schulze und Silke Reuther, on the occasion of the exhibition Looted Art? The Benin Bronzes at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, 2018. With contributions by Anja Ellenberger, Tobias Mörike, Barbara Plankensteiner and Silke Reuther. 64 pages, soft cover, ISBN 978-3-923859-87-0, 9,90 Euro. Available at the museum shop.

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Symposium. Looted Art? How are museums to deal with silver that was formerly Jewish property?

Herausgegeben von Sabine Schulze und Silke Reuther, mit Beiträgen von Katharina Fegebank, Uwe. M. Schneede, Silke Reuther, Wiebke Müller, Ilse von zur Mühlen, Marlies Coburger, Steffi Grapenthin, Leonhard Weidinger, Larissa Förster, Jürgen Lillteicher. Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, 2016, 64 Seiten, Broschur, ISBN 978-3-923859-86-3, 9,90 Euro. Available at the museum shop.

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Herausgegeben von Sabine Schulze und Silke Reuther, mit Beiträgen von Leonhardt Weidinger (Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Wien), Maike Brüggen (Stadtmuseum Frankfurt), Wiebke Müller (Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte), Anja Tiedemann (Universität Hamburg), Frank Hildebrandt (MKG), Olaf Kirsch (MKG), Silke Reuther (MKG) und Uwe M. Schneede (Vorsitzender des Beirats der Arbeitsstelle für Provenienzforschung in Berlin), 144 Seiten, mit zahlreichen Abbildungen in Farbe, 21 x 28 cm, gebunden, ISBN 978-3-923859-81-8 (D), 19,90 Euro. Available at the museum shop.

Download publication (in German)

Digital Cataloguing

Eine Frau an einem Tisch mit einem Plakat darauf. Über dem Tisch an der Wand ist eine Kamera befestigt.

In November 2012, the project "Digitale Inventarisierung" (digital cataloguing) was launched at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. The aim is to digitalise the museum’s diverse collection from the Chinese tea set to the contemporary advertising poster. The project began with the photography, graphics and posters collection whose holdings are being processed with the aid of two reproduction systems. Within the next few years, the museum’s entire holdings of approximately half a million objects are to be processed accordingly in cooperation with the collection custodians, conservators and curators. In digitalised form, the otherwise hidden treasures will not only facilitate working processes within the museum, but also be placed at the disposal of scholars and made accessible to visitors via the MK&G Online Collection.


Insa Brinkmann

MK&G Online Collection

A short film about digital curation and a glimpse behind the scenes of digitization processes at the MK&G Hamburg.

Digital documentation has often been seen as something separated from the daily museum business. In this video, Curator and Head of the East Asian and Islamic Art Collections of the MK&G Wibke Schrape shares her holistic perspective on digital curation: for her, documenting means giving agency to an object, from the moment it comes to the museum, being photographed, measured, conserved, documented in the database, and — if possible — shared with the public.

Filmmaker Dellair Youssef follows her around the galleries and depot spaces of the MK&G and shows what (digital) curation means in her everyday work and how she tackles the many challenges in a hands-on way. We also gain insights on how experts from different departments of the museum work together to digitize a large scale William Morris wallpaper and get a glimpse into the 3D-digitisation of Japanese lacquer work.

As the MK&G holds more than 500.000 objects in total, much resources, care and expert knowledge are needed to fully document the huge collection and also to publish it digitally. It is an endeavor many museums share, some of them just starting their journey, others having rich and extensive records. And yet, documentation is an ongoing process that never will be finished. New objects are being acquired, new findings are gained, new connections are discovered. Technical possibilities and requirements are evolving. Formats, standards and also the way we are documenting are changing — outdated vocabularies require new perspectives and a contemporary language free of discrimination.

Since the documentation process creates complex digital surrogates, these can be seen as new objects themselves. It will be essential to document this form of knowledge production as an expression of its respective time that is constantly evolving with societal and technical changes since the very beginning of museums and collections.

The film was produced as part of the NEO Collections project.


The effort involved in digital cataloguing is very high, especially for three-dimensional objects, and can hardly be managed on the side in everyday museum work. This makes the support of the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius all the more valuable. With their support, the museum is employing a museologist for the duration of the project who, together with the MK&G team, focuses on digitizing the European Decorative Arts and Sculpture Collection. By the end of 2023, approximately 2,000 objects will be recorded and many of them will be documented photographically for the first time. This extraordinary collection will thus be given the visibility and presence it deserves in the Online Collection. In addition, the funding allows an intensive examination of the topic of "digital storytelling".

Project duration: October 2020 - December 2023



Preserving things for posterity

Preserving things – the restoration and long-term conservation of works of art for posterity – is one of the central functions of a museum. The 500.000 or so art objects of different kinds made of diverse materials require care and maintenance from specialized experts. Our conservation team covers a spectrum spanning two- and three-dimensional works of the fine and applied arts from every cultural sphere worldwide from the Ancient World up to the present day.


Besides restoring the works of art and carrying out the accompanying research and documentation, conservators also monitor the climatic conditions and lighting in the exhibition rooms and storerooms and define the conditions under which the individual works can be presented und stored so that the materials and surfaces are optimally conserved. They decide whether a work of art can be allowed to travel on loan to another museum, draw up condition reports on the objects in the permanent exhibitions and carry out regular checks. Their expertise is also called upon when collectors ask for advice and when new works are to be acquired.


Furniture and Wooden Objects
Decorative and Applied Arts

Zwei Personen sitzen an einem Tisch und bearbeiten Objekte mit Pinseln

In einem aufwendigen Forschungs- und Restaurierungsprojekt wurde eines der wertvollsten Musikinstrumente der Sammlung des MK&G in fünf Jahren wissenschaftlich untersucht und konservatorisch bearbeitet. Es handelt sich um ein prachtvoll mit Chinoiserien und Malerei dekoriertes Cembalo aus der Werkstatt von Pascal Taskin in Paris. Das 1787 gebaute Instrument gehört zur weltbedeutenden Sammlung historischer Tasteninstrumente – eine Schenkung des Ehepaars Prof. Dr. Andreas Beurmann und Heikedine Körting-Beurmann im Jahr 2000. Zum 300. Geburtstag seines Erbauers Pascal Taskin ist das optisch wie akustisch gleichermaßen prächtige Instrument nun wieder im MK&G zu sehen und zu hören sein.

Eine sorgfältige Zustandsanalyse, Farb- und Materialuntersuchungen sowie Röntgenaufnahmen haben die verschiedenen historischen Bearbeitungsschichten des Instrumentes aufgedeckt. So konnte eine mehrfache Vergrößerung des Deckels festgestellt werden. Eine historische Farbfassung unter der heute sichtbaren Bemalung wurde ebenso entdeckt. Die Ergebnisse der unter der Leitung von MK&G-Restauratorin Carola Klinzmann durchgeführten Untersuchungen waren Grundlage für eine behutsame konservatorische Behandlung der luxuriösen Dekoration. Die adäquate Spielbarmachung wurde durch das Hamburger Atelier für historische Tasteninstrumente von Ulrich Weymar vorgenommen, in Abstimmung mit zwei international renommierten Experten – Jean-Claude Battault von der Pariser Cité de la musique und dem ebenfalls in Frankreich beheimateten Cembalo- und Fortepianobauer Christopher Clarke.

Das vom Sammlungsleiter Olaf Kirsch initiierte Restaurierungsprojekt wurde durch die großzügige finanzielle Unterstützung von Heikedine Körting-Beurmann zusammen mit der Justus Brinckmann Gesellschaft sowie dem Hamburger Barockgeiger Thomas Pietsch ermöglicht.



Digitale Publikationen

Collection Histories. Islamic Art at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (1873–1915)

The publication looks at the paths taken by works from West and Central Asia into the museum. Eleven studies illuminate the interests of the MK&G founding director Justus Brinckmann, trace his acquisitions, and look at the biographies of individual objects – including a Quran manuscript or tiles from a mausoleum in Bukhara. The focus lies on the relations of local and global networks with the history of the art market.

To the digital publication (in German)

Japanese tea ceramics are utensils used to prepare the powdered green matcha tea in a tea ceremony known as chanoyu (literally ‘hot water for tea’). In a tea gathering, the objects enter into a quiet dialogue with each other and stimulate conversations between host and guests. The enthusiasm for this special art form brings tea people (chajin) and ceramics lovers together. The friendship between MK&G’s founding director Justus Brinckmann (1843–1915) and the art dealer S. Bing (1838–1905) decisively influenced the MK&G collection of Japanese tea ceramics. Exchanges about tea ceramics and their production also formed the basis for the friendship between the ceramist Jan Kollwitz (b. 1960) and the writer Christoph Peters (b. 1966). MK&G invited them both, as well as the group from the Urasenke tea school that practices chanoyu in the MK&G’s Shōseian tea house to co-curate the exhibition. The exhibition is part of a project for academic research into MK&G‘s East Asia Collection sponsored by the Zeit-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius.

To the digital publication