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Museum, war and post-war protecting heritage in armed conflicts

10 and 11 October 2019

The 80th anniversary (1939–2019) of the rescue of the Museo del Prado’s most important works and Spain’s artistic heritage, at what was certainly the darkest hour in its history, is the perfect occasion for an international gathering to promote research, debate and ideas on the topic of the museum and heritage in times of war.

Public Programs
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Submission of paper proposals: until 25 June 2019
Delivery of accepted papers: until 10 September 2019
Registration to attend: since 1 July 2019
Museo del Prado
10 and 11 October 2019

International conference

Conference presentation

Conference presentation

In early February 1939—from the 3rd to the 9th, with a two-day halt on the 6th and 7th when the area was bombed by Franco’s forces—the most important part of Spain's artistic heritage was evacuated from northern Catalonia to France in seventy-one lorries. These thousands of works included around of 600 pieces from the Museo del Prado—masterpieces by Velázquez, Goya, Ribera, Murillo, Dürer, Titian, Rubens, etc.—and assets from other museums, churches, institutions and private collections. Three years previously, when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the Republican Artistic Heritage Council began evacuating works from Madrid to Valencia. From there they travelled to Barcelona and Figueres and finally made their way to Geneva in 1939.

The seventy-one lorries were driven and loaded by Republican forces, and the evacuation was directed by Timoteo Pérez Rubio and the members of the Central Artistic Heritage Council with the assistance of members of the International Committee for the Safeguarding of Spanish Art Treasures, an initiative proposed by painter José María Sert that brought together the leading museums of the democratic world (the Louvre, the National Gallery and Tate Gallery in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Belgium, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). It was a remarkable show of international solidarity, in which various museums joined forces to save Spain’s artistic heritage from grave danger.

After being inventoried by the International Committee, the bulk of evacuated Spanish works returned to Madrid in May and June 1939. However, Francoists selected 174 works from the Prado and 21 tapestries owned by the Spanish heritage agency Patrimonio Nacional to organise an exhibition at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. Between June and September, the show enjoyed an unusual success in those dark days when the terrifying prospect of war loomed on the horizon. A few hours after it closed, World War II broke out. The train that transported the artworks back to Spain sped along French railway tracks in total darkness for fear of a possible German attack, arriving in Madrid on 9 September 1939.

This active policy of heritage evacuation was later implemented by various countries involved in the international conflict: France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany...

Conference Sections

Spanish Museums, Civil War and Post-War Years

  • Heritage policies of the two warring governments
  • Destruction and dispersion of heritage
  • International solidarity and concern for the fate of Spanish museums
  • Returned artworks and pieces delivered to museums for safekeeping in the post-war years
  • Recovering works from abroad

Heritage and War from 1939 to the Present

  • The controversial decision to evacuate in the event of armed conflict
  • Heritage evacuation policies during World War II
  • Destruction, sacking and plunder of heritage
  • Seeking and demanding the return of lost works
  • Museums, heritage and war today


Arturo Colorado Castellary, professor at the Complutense University of Madrid

Committee of experts


  • Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos, Deputy Director of Conservation and Research, Museo del Prado


  • Alicia Alted Vigil, National Distance Learning University
  • Miguel Cabañas Bravo, Spanish National Research Council
  • Arturo Colorado Castellary, Complutense University of Madrid
  • Teresa Díaz Fraile, Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España [Spanish Cultural Heritage Institute]
  • Isidro Moreno Sánchez, Complutense University of Madrid

Special guests

Descendants of those responsible for saving the Museo del Prado and Spain’s heritage during the war and post-war years:

  • Carlos Pérez Chacel (son of Timoteo Pérez Rubio)
  • Francisco de Sert and María del Mar Arnús
  • Dominica de Contreras y López de Ayala (daughter of Juan de Contreras and López de Ayala, marqués de Lozoya)


  • “Historical research and accessible digital representation: New insights and conclusion of the study of artistic heritage during the Spanish Civil War and post-war period”, Excellence in Research Project, Complutense University of Madrid

Paper proposals

  • Submission of paper proposals: until 25 June 2019.
    • Send the title, name of the author/s (max. 3), institution and a 40-line abstract to specifying the subject: Submission of paper proposals Museum, war and post-war protecting heritage in armed conflicts. 
  • Notification of acceptance: 15 July 2019.
  • Delivery of accepted papers: 10 September 2019
    • Complete text, minimum of 4,500 words and maximum of 7,500, including references.


Paper proposals