Thursday, June 26, 2014

I is for Images

I am a very visual person. When I read a book, I picture everything I read. My mind produces a vague blurry description of faces, but of things and places, events and actions, my mind fills it all in. Do you read this way?

I just finished reading one of the most fascinating and detailed books about art and its importance, The Monuments Men. Throughout the story, this tiny brave band of men, with little resources and lots of ingenuity, were given the truly monumental task of finding, protecting, counting, and recovering vast hoards of artwork of all kinds stolen by the Nazi's during World War II. It is hard to comprehend the immensity of the job they faced and how colossally important it was.

Throughout the book, different pieces of artwork were discussed--enormously important works of art from all over the world. One of these was the 12-paneled Ghent Altarpiece. Most of you know that I love art, and know a modest amount about it, but I'd not seen this entire masterpiece by Flemish artists (and brothers), Hubert van Eyck and finished by Jan van Eyck, in the 1430's. The Nazi's covetted this prize and upon conquering Belgium, it was one of the first things on their lengthy list of things to commandeer for the planned F├╝hrermuseum.

This is some of the beautiful detail of this piece:

I find it breathtaking. 

This is one of the panels where it was discovered in a salt mine in Austria at the close of the war:

What it must have been for these men to discover it whole and all in one place! It was not known, for much of the war, where the Altarpiece was or even if it had been destroyed by bombing. The Monuments Men spent a lot of time searching for it, along with all the other stolen artwork.

Another one of the pieces discussed in detail, and coveted by more than one Nazi official, was Johannes Vermeer's, The Astronomer.


I have always loved Vermeer as his art has a magical quality about it. To read the story of the search for, and what was almost the destruction of, this work of art was a bit of a page-turner. Even though I sort of figured they recovered the piece, I really didn't know. There are still pieces of famous artwork that they have never recovered. They could be in private homes somewhere in the world or still stashed in Swiss vaults. The Nazi's had a long and terrible--and oftentimes permanent--reach. 

Because I have studied art for so many years, the images that popped into my mind while reading this book, were many and sometimes overwhelming. But it was not only the artwork. As a student of history, I know all about the horror of the Nazi regime and this book does not leave that out. Much of the art and valuables the Nazi's took were directly from the homes of condemned Jewish families. These are images that I cannot forget. Blended with the beauty of the artwork was the monstrosity of war on the millions who died in camps and on the battlefields across Europe. The scope of all the chaos caused by one man's reign of terror is hard to grasp. 

So I go back to the images of artwork that were preserved--saved for the eyes and appreciative hearts of those yet unborn. I remember that many pieces I have seen in my own lifetime would not have been possible to see without the hard work of the Monuments Men. I am profoundly grateful.

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Debra Brinkman said...

Awesome post. Incredible art.

Under the Sky ... said...

Thanks, friend! :+)


Leah Courtney said...

I've wondered about this book since I saw the movie preview. It sounds very interesting, and I love history. (And the books are always better than the movie!)

Under the Sky ... said...


If you love history, you are bound to really enjoy this book. It took me getting about 1/3 of the way into it before it gripped me, but once it did, it kept getting better and better. :)