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Rijksmuseum To Return Colonial Objects from Its Collection for The First Time

Six Colonial Objects will return to Sri Lanka

Cannon, before 1745
Cannon, before 1745

The Rijksmuseum is set to return six objects currently in its in collection to Sri Lanka this year. It marks the first time colonial objects from the Rijksmuseum collection will be returned. The objects concerned are two swords, two rifles, a dagger and the Cannon of Kandy decorated with precious stones. 

“We appreciate the Secretary of State’s decision and regard this restitution as a positive step in cooperation with Sri Lanka. The relationship and exchanges of knowledge built up between the two nations in the fields of research and common history constitute a strong foundation for the future.” - Taco Dibbits, General Director Rijksmuseum


One of the six objects to be returned is the famous and richly ornamented Cannon of Kandy. The cannon is made of bronze, silver and gold, and inlaid with rubies. The barrel is decorated with the symbols of the King of Kandy: a sun, a half-moon and a Sinhalese lion. The cannon had a purely ceremonial function – it might have been used to fire the salute shots that welcomed important visitors to the king. Troops from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) looted the cannon during the siege and plunder of Kandy in 1765. It was later gifted to William V, Prince of Orange, for his cabinet of curiosities in The Hague. It has been part of the Rijksmuseum collection since 1800.


In 2017, the Rijksmuseum began its investigations into the provenance of colonial objects, working in collaboration with researchers in countries of origin. 2019 saw the start of Pilot Provenance Research on Objects of the Colonial Era (PPROCE). Initiated by the Ministry for Education, Culture and Science (OCW), PPROCE is a two-year partnership project involving the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the National Museum of World Cultures (NMVW) and the Rijksmuseum. Its purpose was to conduct research into the establishing of a structure and methodology for provenance research in partnership with the countries of origin of the objects concerned. Following the submission by Sri Lanka of its claim for the restitution of the six objects, the decision to return them was made by the Dutch Secretary of State for Culture and Media, following the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on the Return of Cultural Objects from Colonial Context. More information: Provenance Research Colonial Collections


  • Cannon, before 1745, bronze, silver, gold, rubies, wood
  • Two wall guns (gingals), ca. 1724-60, wood, iron, brass
  • Two sabres (kasthānés), before 1765, wood, iron, silver, stone/wood, iron, gold, diamonds, rubies
  • Knife (pihiya), before 1765, wood, iron, gold, rock-chrystal

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