Saturday, March 22, 2014

The #MonumentsMen Part 3 Then...there are the Nazi albums

And so, resuming our story about the #MonumentsMen…

Then…there are the Nazi albums

During the course of his research into the whereabouts of lost art and the efforts to save it, Edsel discovered the existence of two large, leather-bound photograph albums which documented portions of the European art looted by the Nazis.  The two albums were in the possession of the heirs of an American soldier who was stationed in the Berchtesgaden area of Germany in the closing days of World War II.

The albums were created by the staff of the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (more comfortably known as the ERR), a special unit that found and confiscated the best material in Nazi-occupied countries.  In France, the ERR engaged in an extensive and elaborate art looting operation, part of Hitler’s much larger premeditated scheme to steal art treasures from conquered nations.  The albums were created for Hitler and high-level Nazi officials as a catalog to give Hitler a way to choose the art for his own museum in Austria.  A group of these photograph albums was presented to Hitler on his birthday in 1943.  Nearly 100 albums were created during the years of their art looting operation.  We do not know what happened to the other 98.

These must have been amazing albums, and only the two Edsel albums are known to have survived the war.  Robert Edsel worked with the owners of the two albums to acquire them for preservation.  In November 2007, at another ceremony at The White House with the Archivist of the United States, Robert Edsel announced the existence of these albums to the public, as well as his donation of the albums to the National Archives.

National Archivist Allen Weinstein called the discovery “one of the most significant finds related to Hitler’s premeditated theft of art and other cultural treasures to be found since the Nuremberg trials.”

So in summary, these extraordinary measures taken by Robert Edsel very much put The Monuments Men on the map for the current generation.  The photos in the books are fascinating and are information for a whole new generation of Americans.

One of the iconic Da Vinci paintings, Lady With an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani) (see book cover and page 251) is reminiscent of and frequently mentioned in the same breath with the painting La Belle Ferronniere.  The authenticity of La Belle Ferronniere as a painting by Leonardo da Vinci was disputed in an infamous 1929 court case. According to information provided by Sotheby’s where it was auctioned about four years ago, the work was likely painted by a French artist in the seventeenth century.

It’s impossible not to diverge here with the story of 
La Belle Ferronniere...So stay tuned for more anon.

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