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European sites, art tell tales of Monuments Men

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 5, 2014 at 5:18 pm •  Published: February 5, 2014

To see a work of art with a history that encapsulates the Nazi looting machine, Edsel says, gaze upon Jan Vermeer's painting "The Astronomer" at the Louvre. "If we could take it off the wall it would have a Nazi inventory code on the back," he said.

"That one picture is stolen from the Rothschilds, goes to the Jeu de Paume. It's selected for (Adolf) Hitler's museum. ... It ends up in the salt mine at Altaussee, found by the Monuments officers, returned with all these other things to France, returned to the Rothschilds, donated to the Louvre," he said.


Visitors flock to tour "Mad" King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein Castle, nestled in Germany's soaring Bavarian Alps with dramatic turrets rising into the sky. But during the war, the castle was the Nazi's hideaway for about 21,000 items stolen from French collectors and records of the looting.

Monuments Man John Davis Skilton arrived in the German town of Wurzburg in hopes of saving the Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's ceiling fresco "Allegory of the Planets and Continents." The fresco in the Residenz palace dating back to the 1750s was in peril: The roof above the fresco ceiling burned off during Allied bombings, leaving it exposed to the elements.

Edsel said Skilton set to figuring out how to get a roof built over the fresco as soon as possible. "He sees how precarious it is, so he finds lumber, which was no easy feat," said Edsel.

"When you go walk through the palace Residenz, in the last room that you're in, there's a small shrine to John Skilton," he said.


In Italy, Florence's bridges today offer a look at cultural treasures that didn't survive the war. Except for the Ponte Vecchio — the city's famous covered bridge — other bridges over the Arno were destroyed by the Nazis as they made their retreat out of Italy in 1944. Pictures from the war show people walking across the rubble that was once the bridges. Edsel says the now rebuilt bridges are "part of the altered legacy that we live with today."

Monuments Man Deane Keller's work to restore the heavily damaged Camposanto building in Pisa meant so much to him that he was buried there after his 1992 death. During the war, frescos in the ancient cemetery located near the city's Leaning Tower were damaged from a fire during a fight for the city. Keller worked with a team to salvage and save what they could.



Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art: