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Monuments Men; Saving Italy

We have been enjoying reading "The Monuments Men," by Robert M. Edsel. We did see the movie a few years ago, but it was on a plane and I think I slept through most of it.

I read his later works, "Saving Italy" and "Rescuing DaVinci" before our 2017 Village Italy tour, and enjoyed them, especially "Saving Italy."

"Monuments Men" covers a lot more ground than either of the other two, and probably covers way more than you ever new about Nazi art theft and the work of the Allies to recover as much of that art as possible. It's a compelling read, concentrating on the individuals involved. Getting to know these people personally, - their lives, loves, backgrounds, and children - makes the book more compelling. It's worth the few evenings it will take to read it.

And as a related plug, "Saving Italy" is even better. Edsel found when he was planning "Monuments Men" that he had too much information for a general interest book, so he left out almost all of his Italy information (except about Monte Cassino,) and put it in its own book. Again, more that you ever knew about Naziism, finding and saving art, and the people involved - on both sides.

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2486 posts

Jane thanks for this! I love these sorts of books and have a couple of weeks of beach time in Kauai this spring. Will be perfect reading!

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824 posts

David and I loved it when our local city guide in Ghent stated that they(city of Ghent and Belgium) appreciated George Clooney for bringing back their Ghent Alterpiece. When we did the holland Belgium tour.

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2908 posts

Our daughter in law is related (by marriage) to one of the people in this effort. It has been fascinating to hear some of his stories over the past few years of his father's work! Thanks for the recommendation to the Italian book which I haven't read yet. I'm half way through Vermeer's Hat which you recommended last week. Keep them coming!

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6353 posts

I agree with your recommendation. I liked the movie, but I really got so much more from the book. One of the best non-fiction books I've read in the past few years. I read it right before I went to Belgium so I had to make sure I saw the Bruges Madonna by Michelangelo.

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4645 posts

One of the things that makes reading books like this even more rewarding is having seen many of the rescued artworks. The Ghent altarpiece, the Bruges Madonna, the Kraków altarpiece, DaVinci's "Lady with and Ermine," the Mona Lisa, and many more... Having seen them brings the books to life, and having read the books adds depth to our appreciation of the art.

One of the things the books talk about is how some of the artworks that couldn't easily be moved were protected during wartime. Did you know, for example, that Michaelangelo's "David" was bricked up during the war to protect it? And the Last Supper in Milan was protected by a fortified wall placed in front of it. It was the only wall in that chapel that survived the war!

There's also quite a bit, especially in "Saving Italy," about those Nazi officials and officers who helped save monuments and artworks from Hitler's rage.

Keep reading, folks. This is amazing stuff.

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1965 posts

Jane,
Thanks for posting. I read The Monuments Men before I went on the 17 Day tour of Italy. I have not read the other books. Such a valuable effort to save important works of art and culture. The woman whose name I forget who worked valiantly to save the art in the Jeu de Paume in Paris - sp.? was a remarkable woman. The descriptions of Goering made my blood boil he was pictured as a greedy fat man - yuk!!
I hope to see the Ghent masterpiece someday and Michelangelo's Madonna.

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4645 posts

Rose Valland. Yes, she risked her life many times over to save France's artistic heritage. Amazing.

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1075 posts

I just returned from 3 weeks in Paris yesterday. I took the Paris Walks WWII occupation and resistance walk and the guide talked a bit about Rose and her amazing work right under the noses of the Nazis.
I too had seen the movie a few years ago on a plane and slept through some of it, through no fault of the movie itself!
I'll put a hold on the book at the library today.
Thanks for the recommendation.

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223 posts

On the subject of the Germans' theft of art, I found "The Rape of Europa" by Lynn Nicholas to be more comprehensive than "The Monuments Men."

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4645 posts

Thanks, Elizabeth. I'll look it up.

Edit to add: I just ordered it from the library!

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8397 posts

Thanks Jane! I think I bought Monuments Men on my Kindle app after I saw the movie but it's dropped down pretty far so I'll have to resurrect it. I'll look for the Saving Italy one as well.

SharYn, I did that Occupation walk twice last year. I love the plaque on the side of the Jeu de Paume building to Rose!

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1554 posts

"Rape of Europa" was also an excellent TV program that aired on PBS stations. You may be able to check out the video from your local library. I also enjoyed reading "The Lady in Gold" by Anne Marie O'Connor (it was also a movie starring Helen Mirren) with a similar story line but with a legal twist.

I was lucky to see da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine in Krakow a few years back. It was a solo show, just the one painting. I had read the story before hand and got chills, and admittedly a little weepy, when I saw her in person...it was just me and the painting and the security guard. I was also lucky to see Mr. Edsel lecture in person about his second book. His passion for the topic is infectious.

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4645 posts

CL, I, too saw Lady with an Ermine in Kraków, about 35 years ago, and it changed my perception of art. Up to that point, I had always thought seeing a print or reproduction of a painting was as good as seeing the original. (I was young, naïve, and ignorant.) But that painting just mesmerized me. We also were able to get close enough to the work to see the brush strokes and layers of paint, to see how vibrant the colors were, and how well structured the design - an amazing, and decidedly educational, experience. Thanks for bringing that memory back.