Monday, February 12, 2007

Reads on art recovery

This past December, The New York Times put together an interesting article that took a closer look at the book Rescuing Da Vinci, which focused on some of the art recovery efforts following World War II. As the world currently grapples with how best to handle the issues involving the removal of art and other artifacts resulting from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it's worthwhile to take a look at some examinations of what happened in the 1940s. The following are some suggested reads that deal with this topic.

Rescuing Da Vinci - During and following WWII, a special multinational group of more than 350 men and women served behind enemy lines and joined frontline military units to ensure the preservation, protection, liberation and restitution of the world's greatest artistic and cultural treasures. This "band of unsung heroes," formally referred to as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) section, or commonly referred to as the "Monuments Men," worked tirelessly to track down, identify and catalogue millions of priceless works of art and irreplaceable cultural artifacts, including masterpieces by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Vermeer, that had been stolen by Hitler and the Nazis.

The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War - Every few months you'll read a newspaper story of the discovery of some long-lost art treasure hidden away in a German basement or a Russian attic: a Cranach, a Holbein, even, not long ago, a da Vinci. Such treasures ended up far from the museums and churches in which they once hung, taken as war loot by Allied and Axis soldiers alike. Thousands of important pieces have never been recovered. Lynn Nicholas offers an astonishingly good account of the wholesale ravaging of European art during World War II, of how teams of international experts have worked to recover lost masterpieces in the war's aftermath and of how governments "are still negotiating the restitution of objects held by their respective nations."

The Lost Museum - Pillage is one of the traditional perks of warfare. But it took Adolf Hitler to systematize the decimation and despoiling of cultures, and it took Hector Feliciano seven years to track five famous art collections stolen by the Nazis. He uncovered not only Nazi schemes but also a well-oiled machine of collaborators, informants, moving companies, and neighbors, all with their fingers in the pie. The Lost Museum reads like a good detective story. Inspired by a fascination with the theft of five prominent Parisian Jewish families' art collections, it focuses on the beneficiaries of the thefts and justice for its victims. Filled with family photos of the art, some never before seen by the public, The Lost Museum tracks the pieces as they passed through the hands of German officials, unscrupulous art dealers, and unsuspecting auction houses. That the network was so deviously intricate illustrates the enormous challenge of restitution.

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