Treasure From The Trash Can

A medieval cross that was looted from a Polish Princess during World War II turned up in a trash can in rural Austria. The painted cross, which is estimated to be worth some 800,000 dollars, was untraced for over 60 years. However, a lady from Zell am See near Salzburg chanced upon the treasure while neighbours were carrying out a house clearance.

Following the death of a local hotel owner in 2004, family members had to clear out the man's property in Zell. A lot of stuff ended up in the trash can, but fortunately for posterity, the family didn't mind a curious lady taking her pick from the throwaways.

For three years the salvaged cross lay stashed behind the lady's sofa. Then a month ago, a friend suggested that the cross was more than a mere trinket. The painted treasure was taken to a museum in nearby Leogang, and the truth of the matter was revealed.

The cross was indeed a medieval heirloom, and Viennese experts date it to Limoges, circa 1200. During the nineteenth century, the cross entered the collection of Izabela Czartoryska-Dzialynska (1830-1899), scion of one of Poland's most distinguished families. During the Nazi Occupation, the Princess's descendants had the cross hidden in the cellar of a Warsaw building. But as was so often the case, the treasure was tracked down. The exact details of how the cross ended up in rural Austria remain a mystery - the main branch of the Czartoryski family is still searching for a Raphael portrait that was stolen during the war.

For now, the cross is being kept at the museum in Leogang. However, it is unlikely that it will remain there for long. Earlier this year, Austria launched a major programme to trace looted works of art, and the heirs of the Czartoryski Family are being legally represented by the Commission For Looted Art In Europe, a London-based institution.


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