MassArt Library Blog

War & Art: A Tribute to The Monuments Men by gvlr
May 5, 2009, 7:27 pm
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At its commencement ceremony on May 22, MassArt will award an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree to the Monuments Men. This group of approximately 345 men and women from 13 nations participated in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program within the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied Armies during World War II. They rescued art and other cultural property from the war’s destruction and the Nazi’s systematic looting.

us-army_germany_1944-46_p27 Manet Painting recovered from Merkers Mine in Germany (from the website of the Monument Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art)

In tribute to the Monuments Men, the Godine Library is exhibiting a range of materials:  books, posters, playing cards, videos– on several themes.  We hope to recount the Monuments Men’s challenges and heroics more than 60 years ago as well as explore similar challenges we face today, many concrete and dangerous, others philosophical and political. As we can, we’ll be posting to this blog, presenting additional information reflecting the exhibition themes:

  • the Monuments Men
  • continuing work to return art stolen from Jewish families and others during the Holocaust
  • recent destruction and looting of cultural material in Iraq and Afganistan, and efforts to mitigate those, including a new initiative of the U.S. Armed Services
  • scholarly debate about the nature of cultural property and ethical obligations regarding its ownership and protection.

    The Monuments Men

    The Monuments Men respected the cultures of others. They risked their lives to preserve that culture. Two Monuments Men were killed in action protecting treasures. As a group the Monuments Men changed the course of history by returning more than 5 million cultural items after the war. Help us preserve the legacy of the Monuments Men and put it to use in protecting cultural treasures from future armed conflict. (from the website of the Monument Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art)

    nef1(from the website of the Monument Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art)

    Monuments Man Sgt. Kenneth Lindsay gazing at the ancient Egyptian Bust of Queen Nefertiti. On view as part of the Art & War exhibit is a plaster cast of this bust as well as a selection of books about the ethics of cultural appropriation. Does the Nefertiti bust reside in Berlin and the Parthenon marbles reside in London for reasons of preservation and public access or colonialism?

The following images from the 1946 exhibition catalog in the Godine’ Library’s collection, Paintings Looted from Holland give a sense of the work of the Monuments Men and the enormous value of the artworks  they recovered.







    Room Before the MFA&A Took Over with Leftover Nazi Propaganda Material


    Koenigsplatz, Munich, With Art Collecting Point in Center


    Room in Art Collecting Point after MFA & A Took Over


    Token Load for Holland. 26 Masterpieces Taken on Board American Plane


    Dutch Convoy Starting for Holland

    From the book Paintings looted from Holland : returned through the efforts of the United States Armed Forces. A collection to be exhibited in … Ann Arbor, Michigan, Baltimore, Maryland, Buffalo, New York [etc.] … 1946


    Hendrick Avercamp, Skating

    loot-13Gerard Ter Borch, Jacob de Graeff


    Pieter Claesz, Still Life


    Arent A. Gelder, Ernst van Beveren


    Pieter Codde, Couple in Interior


    Gerret Heda, Showpiece.


    Jan Davidsz. De Heem, Vivant Oranje


    Thomas De Keyser, A Lady


    Thomas De Keyser, A Young Tourist


    Nicolaes Maes, “Juno” or the Eavesdropper


    Aert Van Der Neer, Mills at Night


    Jacobus S. Mancadan, Classical Landscape


    Jacob Van Ruisdael, Beach of Egmond


    Jacob Van Ruisdael, View of Haarlem

    For more information about the Monuments Men, including video interviews and clips from the film Rape of Europa, please visit

    Protecting Cultural Property in Iraq

    In the early days of the Iraq war, apparently in favor of protecting Iraq’s oil ministry, the United States abandoned that nation’s national library and museum to fire and looting respectively. Since then we’ve all learned more about Iraq’s cultural treasures, what’s at stake, and what we can do.

    Archeologist and MassArt Professor of Art History John Russell has long been outspoken about the need to protect Iraq’s cultural treasures. He even put his life on the line. For nine months at the start of the war, Russell served as an advisor to the Ministry of Culture in Baghdad, where he helped renovate museums and protect archeological sites from looting. You can read about his service in Andrew Lawler’s Boston Globe article “The Treasure Hunter,” and read John’s own thoughts in his essay “Why Should We Care” that appeared in the winter 2003 issue of Art Journal.

    Professor John Russell

    Professor John Russell

    More recently Russell been working on two projects with the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting cultural property during wartime. First, the USCBS successfully lobbied the U.S. Senate to ratify (this past September) the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Second, Russell and the USCBS have been delivering cultural-property-protection training to U.S. military personnel. You can read more about these projects in the USCBS newsletter. One aspect of the training is the design and distribution of playing cards modeled on the “Most Wanted” playing cards. Instead of bearing the images of bad guys, these cards have images of art needing protection. The Godine Library exhibition includes a deck and other educational materials that Russell helped develop.   You’ll probably notice that every card says, “ROE first.”  ROE signifies the military Rules Of Engagement.

    iraq card

    afganistan card

    back side of card

    Websites of Interest:

    U.S. Blue Shield Committee

    Antiquities Collectors Blog

    Society for Historical Archaeology

    FBI Art Theft Program


    Materials available for your perusal within the Godine Library exhibit Art & War:


    The looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad : the lost treasures of ancient Mesopotamia / edited by Milbry Polk and Angela M.H. Schuster. 2005

    Antiquities under siege : cultural heritage protection after the Iraq war / edited by Lawrence Rothfield. 2008

    rape of europaThe rape of Europa : the fate of Europe’s treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War / Lynn H. Nicholas. 1995

    Afghanistan : hidden treasures from the National Museum, Kabul / edited by Fredrik Hiebert and Pierre Cambon. 2008

    Art under a dictatorship / Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut. 1973

    lost museumThe lost museum : the Nazi conspiracy to steal the world’s greatest works of art / Hector Feliciano.1997

    The victor weepsThe victor weeps : Afghanistan / Fazal Sheikh.1998

    Rescuing Da Vinci : Hitler and the Nazis stole Europe’s great art : America and her allies recovered it / Robert M. Edsel ; forewords by Lynn H. Nicholas and Edmund P. Pillsbury. 2006

    Paintings looted from Holland : returned through the efforts of the United States Armed Forces. A collection to be exhibited in … Ann Arbor, Michigan, Baltimore, Maryland, Buffalo, New York [etc.] … 1946

    Loot! : the heritage of plunder / Russell Chamberlin.1983

    The plundered past [by] Karl E. Meyer.1973

    Klimt's womenKlimt’s women / edited by Tobias G. Natter and Gerbert Frodl ; texts by Neda Bei … [et al.]. 2000


    Specters of Provenance: National Loans, the Königsplatz, and Maria Eichhorn’s “Politics of Restitutions”

    Alexander Alberro, Grey Room Winter 2005, No. 18: 64–81.


    The Rape of Europa [videorecording] / Actual Films ; in association with Agon Arts & Entertainment presents ; written, produced and directed by Richard Berge, Nicole Newnham and Bonni Cohen ; co-producer, Robert M. Edsel ; an Actual Films production, in association with Agon Arts & Entertainmentand Oregon Public Broadcasting. 2008

    The TrainThe Train [videorecording] / a United Artists release ; [Les Productions Artistes associés]. MGM Home Entertainment;screen story and screenplay by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis ; produced by Jules Bricken ; directed by John Frankenheimer. 1951. In August 1944 the Allied army is closing in on Paris. German commander and art fanatic Colonel Von Waldheim steals a vast collection of rare French paintings and loads them onto a train bound for Berlin. When a beloved French patriot is murdered while trying to sabotage Von Waldheim’s scheme, Labiche, a stalwart member of the Resistance, vows to stop the train at any cost.