MOSCOW — Russia fired the most dramatic volley yet in its battle with Germany over World War II "trophy" art, unveiling one of the most famous archaeological finds in history on April 15 after a half-century of secrecy.
A stunning trove of gold long known as King Priam's Treasure, from the ancient city of Troy, went on public display for a year at Moscow's Pushkin Museum over the objections of German officials who have been seeking its return.
Trojan Gold is Russia's fourth major trophy art show and the most sensational yet. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg got in on the act last year, displaying hundreds of drawings by European Masters and dozens of plundered French paintings, many of them Impressionist masterpieces.
Many Russians consider the treasures rightfully theirs since they were seized as spoils of victory from the Nazi regime that wreaked devastation on Russia. "This show should have been opened long ago," museum director Irina Antonova told a news conference. "These are remarkable treasures."
But Germany, embroiled with Moscow in a high-stakes cultural tussle that has political and nationalistic implications, voiced displeasure in remarks by its ambassador and a written statement by its embassy. Ambassador Ernst York von Studnitz said the opening should have been done in cooperation with the Germans, who still possess the majority - albeit less glittering part - of the collection.
The legendary haul of gold from Troy was excavated by German amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1873 and sent back to Berlin. He was convinced at the time that it belonged to Priam, king of the city that was featured in Homer's epic poem, "The Iliad." The treasure from the legendary Greek city, whose modern-day site is in northwestern Turkey, was later determined to date to about 2500 BC during the Bronze Age and long before Homer.
Bursting with goodwill at the end of the cold war, Moscow and Germany signed a treaty in 1990 providing for the mutual return of booty seized illegally from each other during World War II.
But Russia, which reaffirmed that Soviet-era commitment in 1992, remains reluctant to give back its major treasures, which are not fully catalogued but are worth billions of dollars. Negotiations have since deadlocked.