The word is most commonly used in detailing the history of ownership of a piece of art, or other object. There are museums who have people on staff to explore such an issue. Sometimes it confirms the artist, and date of creation, or the alterations on a piece. Recently the issue of provenance has repeatedly made the papers concerning items that forcibly changed possession during World War II, especially items looted by the Nazi government and agents of Hitlerite Germany. Interpol first published a list of stolen works in 1947 [click Interpol, click FBI].
Another recurrent source of stories is that of very ancient works that have been sold on a black market outside the country of origin. Some of these works are archaeological, some are ethno-cultural artifacts. A very infamous case is that of the Parthenon [Elgin] Marbles. During the Napoleonic Wars, the English ambassador, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, to the Ottoman Turks arranged the removal of sculptural items from the Athenian Acropolis. They have been in the British Museum in London since. Athens, the state of Greece wants them back. One of the many arguments is that the occupying Turks had no right to sell Greek patrimony to the acquisitive English.
But we can find closer, and more current items of problematic provenance.
mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Aurora Ohio 25 May 2013This is a mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a very common and favorite icon of Slavonic people about the world. It is beloved and cherished by western and eastern Christians, the Latin-rite, the Byzantine-rite, and the national Orthodox churches.
The parish of St. John the Baptist Akron Ohio had a mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It was last seen there by general parishioners on the night of its attempted (and eventually overturned) suppression by Bp. Richard Lennon on 31 October 2009. The parish was under an appeal to Rome, which issued a decree on 1 March 2013 that upheld the appeal. That decree and ten others, in the most diplomatic but exacting terms, stated the attempted suppression was flawed from the start and that Lennon was told this during his actions. In the interim, by canon law, all properties of an appealing parish were in stasis. Nothing belonging to the parish was permitted to be distributed, sold, or to be marketed. The, foto supra, was taken yesterday at the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Aurora Ohio, Diocese of Youngstown in Portage County.
mosaic of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at St. John the Baptist Akron Ohio 24 October 2009Now, Lennon and the diocese of Cleveland were caught several times marketing items, and real estate. [example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4] "...St. Stanislaus, Lorain was suppressed 27 September 2009. 22 September the Lorain Journal and WKYC 3 both reported that a real estate agency had the property listed on its website at that date. Bob Tayek was quoted in both stories." Later the Cleveland Plain Dealer, quoted Lennon's spokesman, Tayek: "No property is placed for sale until a church is officially closed." Very recently, Lorain's paper printed Thursday 23 May 2013 that the church sold for $210,000. Tayek was very quick (on another occasion) to slander and libel parishioners who rescued war plaques from rubble and destruction as thieves, but photographic evidence and witnesses easily showed him a liar.