Hundreds of people gathered outside a museum in the Catalan city of Lleida to protest against the removal of 44 works of art that have been at the centre of a long-running dispute between Catalonia and the neighbouring region of Aragón.
The operation involved 44 items stored in the Catalan Museum of Lleida but, originally, from Sijena monastery. The pieces, which include paintings, alabaster reliefs and polychromatic wooden coffins, were sold to the Catalan government by the nuns of the Sijena convent, in Aragón, in the 1980s. The Aragonese authorities have been trying to recover the works through the courts, arguing they were unlawfully sold. Both Aragon and Catalonia claim the art pieces are part of their respective cultural heritage.
After a court ordered Catalan authorities to hand them over to the neighboring regional government of Aragon, Spanish police escorted two trucks loaded with pieces of medieval religious art from a museum in the city of Lleida amid protests, as several hundred people, including many pro-Catalan independence supporters, turned up to protest the transfer and there were brief scuffles and police baton charges as officers tried to move them further away from the museum. The artwork was taken away in trucks escorted by Spanish Civil Guard police.
There have been longstanding claims for these and other treasures from the royal monastery of Santa Maria de Sijena, which was founded in the late 12th century.
Many of these claims were dispersed down the centuries. Works from Sijena are also in the Prado in Madrid as well as Museo de Zaragoza in the capital of Aragon, the newspaper El Mundo reports. The kings of Aragon ruled, at the height of their powers during the Middle Ages, territories including Catalonia as well as modern day France and Italy.
Around 50 other works, sold from Sijena by the nuns, went to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona. The museum is already home to many carefully restored mural paintings from Sijena, which were removed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War for safekeeping, as the monastery was badly damaged during the conflict.