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Spanish court blocks Alba family from selling Columbus letter

Foundation formerly run by Duchess of Alba says it needed money to maintain its holdings

Vicente G. Olaya

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A portrait of Christopher Columbus.
A portrait of Christopher Columbus.MUSEO NAVAL

A Spanish court has upheld a ban on the sale of a letter written by Christopher Columbus that was due to be auctioned off for an estimated €21 million at Christie’s in London.

The Culture Ministry had in 2013 informed the House of Alba Foundation, which was run by Spain’s colorful Duchess of Alba until her death last year, that it opposed the sale of the letter, written in 1498 by Columbus to his son, Diego.

The foundation, which has more than 20 letters written by Columbus, said it had chosen what it felt was the least important of the missives, and that it needed the money to carry out urgent work on its collection.

But the Madrid regional High Court upheld the Culture Ministry’s ban, saying in its ruling that the letter was of “exceptional relevance for Spain’s cultural heritage, given the importance of the person and the collections it is part of.”

The Alba family foundation has more than 20 letters written by Columbus

After the death of the Duchess of Alba, María del Rosario Cayetano Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, last year, her son Carlos Martínez de Irujo took charge of the institution.

One of Spain’s largest landowners, the Alba family also possesses an impressive art collection that dates back to its origins in the 15th century.

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