The Ghent Altarpiece (5) The Monuments Men
The theft of the Ghent Altarpiece by the Nazis, along with the theft of the Madonna of Bruges, a marble statue by Michelangelo and thousands of pieces or art, both robbed from private collections - from Jewish families mainly - and from public collections, this forms the central theme of the 2014 film The Monuments Men. The theft and also the story of how the pieces of art were finally saved from destruction in Germany and Austria. Because the Führer had decreed that should he come to die, all the looted collections had to be destroyed. Otherwise, they were to stay in a future "Führer Museum" in the German capital Berlin.
In previous Ghent Altarpiece (2) The Lamb's Calvary you can read how the Altar Piece left Ghent and ended up in Schloss Neuschwanstein (castle) in Bavaria. After Allied air raids made the castle too dangerous for the painting, it was moved to the Altaussee salt mines.
Both locations are shown in the film, and an attempt is made to show how the invaluable pieces of art were saved from destruction by the Nazis and this just in time in order to keep the Russians from taking them with them to Leningrad as a reparation for their enormous losses during the war.
While a group of seven men represent the "monument men", in reality there were about three hundred of them.
Whether preserving art is worth sacrificing human life is a rhetorical question Nespresso man George Clooney puts in the movie. During an interview on tv, I heard him add that in the case of Irak, no precautions had been taken to preserve the unique legacy of history. For all the mistakes that are made in international policy and all the crimes committed during wars, there's no doubt that the Americans ad their Allies were the good guys doing an honourable job in saving treasures of our civilization. That should never be forgotten. If we can admire the Ghent Altarpiece and the Madonna of Bruges among many other pieces of art today, it is thanks to these men who risked their lives.
An interesting review of the film: