The Contested Crown

This is a book about repatriation’s emotional and creative dimensions. It is written from the perspective of involvement in familial and philosophical ways.
The return of cultural property to its original owners has inspired art works and arguments that this book explores.
It makes the long overdue comparison between Holocaust and colonial ethical claims and legal histories. It looks at the ways in which Mexican requests for a return of the so-called Montezuma’s Crown have been treated in Austria where the 16th Century object is still held. This book analyses claims for the repatriation case of Montezuma’s Crown/el Penacho, the oldest surviving feather headdress, today among the most contested museum claims between Europe and the Americas.

Beginning in Castle Ambras’ cabinet of curiosities, the largest sixteenth-century museum operation, this case study uses storytelling of the object’s history all the way to the contemporary World Museum Vienna and uniquely encompasses 1. conservation science as central to the practical reality of collections; 2. archives on the bi-national commission, collaboration with practitioners of archaeology and international law; and 3. theories of globalization and nationalism that question the validity of the universal museum to keep all the world’s treasures and 4. artistic research that reconfigures past and future public appearances of the fragile crown in live performances, costumes, rituals and exhibitions. The book thinks about the significance of copies, looking at artists and amanteca’s feather headdresses. It includes an ethnography of those Mexican communities who perform in feather headdresses.

In an investigation informed by Freud, Marx, and Fanon, on notions of alienation, religious estrangement, guilt, and animism, the book explores how Austria’s colonial history intersects with and continues to shape post-war repatriation. Whilst Euro-American geopolitics are unique, this project’s impact will extend far beyond this specific case study by demonstrating how an understanding of postcolonial and post-war repatriation in a comparative framework will help address the ethical challenges faced by institutions worldwide, who need to mediate ethically across cultures in their displays of art and material culture.