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(C) Robert M. Edsel  2018 

As the most destructive war in history ravaged Europe, many of the world's most cherished cultural objects were in harm's way. The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History recounts the astonishing true story of 11 men and one woman who risked their lives amidst the bloodshed of World War II to preserve churches, libraries, monuments, and works of art that for centuries defined the heritage of Western civilization.

 

As the war raged, these American and British volunteers -- museum curators, art scholars and educators, architects, archivists, and artists, known as the Monuments Men -- found themselves in a desperate race against time to locate and save the many priceless treasures and works of art stolen by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

When Hitler’s armies occupied Italy in 1943, they also seized control of mankind’s greatest cultural treasures. As they had done throughout Europe, the Nazis could now plunder the masterpieces of the Renaissance, the treasures of the Vatican, and the antiquities of the Roman Empire.

On the eve of the Allied invasion, General Dwight Eisenhower empowered a new kind of soldier to protect these historic riches. In May 1944 two unlikely American heroes—artist Deane Keller and scholar Fred Hartt—embarked from Naples on the treasure hunt of a lifetime, tracking billions of dollars of missing art, including works by Michelangelo, Donatello, Titian, Caravaggio, and Botticelli.

With the German army retreating up the Italian peninsula, orders came from the highest levels of the Nazi government to transport truckloads of art north across the border into the Reich. Standing in the way was General Karl Wolff, a top-level Nazi officer. As German forces blew up the magnificent bridges of Florence, General Wolff commandeered the great collections of the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace, later risking his life to negotiate a secret Nazi surrender with American spymaster Allen Dulles.

The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations, most of whom volunteered for service in the newly created Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section, or MFAA. Most had expertise as museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects, and archivists. Their job description was simple: to save as much of the culture of Europe as they could during combat.

These men not only had the vision to understand the grave threat to the greatest cultural and artistic achievements of civilization, but then joined the front lines to do something about it.

The Monuments Men had a mandate from President Roosevelt and the support of General Eisenhower, but no vehicles, gasoline, typewriters, or authority.

In a race against time to save the world’s greatest cultural treasures from destruction at the hands of Nazi fanatics, each man gathered scraps and hints to construct his own treasure map using records recovered from bombed cathedrals and museums, the secret notes and journals of Rose Valland, a French museum employee who secretly tracked Nazi plunder through the rail yards of Paris, and even a tip from a dentist during a root canal.

These unlikely heroes, mostly middle-aged family men, walked away from successful careers into the epicenter of the war, risking—and some losing—their lives. Like other members of the Greatest Generation, they embodied the courageous spirit that enabled the best of humanity to
defeat the worst.

Rescuing Da Vinci uses 460 photographs to tell the "untold story of the 'Monuments Men'" and their discovery of more than 1,000 repositories filled with millions of items including paintings, sculptures, furniture, archives and other treasures stolen during WWII by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Rose Valland is one of the greatest and yet unknown heroines of World War II. After risking her life spying on the Nazis, day after day for four long years, Rose lived to fulfill her destiny: locating and returning tens of thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazis during their occupation of France. Yet her remarkable story, like much of her personal life, has remained unknown to the broad public… until now.

A must for students, art historians, curators and other scholars, this carefully documented volume is critical to the clarification of provenances of the objects featured and brings to light pictures whose histories and whereabouts have been hidden for decades.

Based on seven years of exhaustive research by leading art historian and curator Nancy Yeide of the National Gallery of Art, this book draws on inventories, correspondence, memoranda, and post-war investigations by both the Allies and the German government to provide the most complete picture ever created of Goering’s art collection.