The Restitution Dialogues: Exploring the Vatican Archives

Posted on: December 12, 2022 by

On 18 January 2023, the next instalment of The Restitution Dialogues conference series will take place in the form of an online seminar investigating the Vatican Archives and its holdings of Indigenous items, including questions of returning items to communities of origin. The event will be co-hosted by Trinity College at the University of Toronto, the Centre for Provenance Research and Cultural Property Law at Bonn University, the Minerva Centre at the University of Tel Aviv and the Institute of Art & Law. The event will take place via Zoom and is free to attend (register below to receive a link).

The Vatican Archives in Rome house tens of thousands of Indigenous items.  In light of the larger global conversation about cultural loss and the return of colonial-era cultural property, pointed questions are being asked about the return of Indigenous cultural items to their communities.  In this instalment of the Restitution Dialogues, we seek to further the discussion of these important questions by exploring the history of the Vatican collection and locating that history in the larger context of debates and practices concerning cultural loss, transfer, and return.  This is especially pertinent in countries such as Canada, which will be a particular focus of the discussion, in light of the Church’s role in the country’s residential schools system. The panel will discuss items such as the broader impact of the contemporary ‘restitution revolution’, the nature and provenance of Indigenous material in the Vatican collection, institutional best practices in restitution and repatriation, and the cultural impact of return and renewal.

DATE: 18 January 2023

TIME: 5:00 pm, London time [12:00 noon Toronto; 6:00 pm Bonn; 7:00 pm Tel Aviv]

DELIVERY METHOD: Online, via Zoom

DURATION: 2 hours



  • Gloria Bell, Assistant Professor, Art History & Communication Studies, McGill University
  • Leora Bilsky, Professor of Law and Head of Minerva Center for Human Rights, Tel Aviv University
  • Alexander Herman, Director, Institute of Art & Law
  • Mayo Moran, Provost & Vice-Chancellor, Trinity College, Professor of Law, University of Toronto
  • Lou-Ann Neel, Kwakwaka’wakw artist
  • Jennifer Orange, Assistant Professor, Lincoln Alexander School of Law, Toronto Metropolitan University
  • Jacquetta Swift, Repatriation Manager at the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C.
  • Matthias Weller, Professor for Civil Law, Art and Cultural Property Law, Director of the Institute for German and International Civil Procedural Law, University of Bonn


This conference is part of the ongoing “Restitution Dialogues” conference series and also serves as the closing session of the joint class of the Universities of Tel Aviv and Bonn entitled “Restitution of Nazi-Looted Art in Comparative Perspectives” (part of the winter semester).

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About Alexander Herman

Alexander is Director of the Institute of Art and Law. You can find him on Twitter @artlawalex and on LinkedIn. His two books 'The Parthenon Marbles Dispute – Heritage, Law Politics' and 'Restitution – The Return of Cultural Artefacts' are out now.