The True Story of the Monuments Men
Without the work of these curators and professors, tens of thousands of priceless works of art would have been lost to the world forever
by Jim Morrison (Yeah, I thought that too.)
Captain Robert Posey and Pfc. Lincoln Kirstein were the first through the small gap in the rubble blocking the ancient salt mine at Altausee, high in the Austrian Alps in 1945 as World War II drew to a close in May 1945. They walked past one side chamber in the cool damp air and entered a second one, the flames of their lamps guiding the way.
There, resting on empty cardboard boxes a foot off the ground, were eight panels of The Adoration of the Lamb by Jan van Eyck, considered one of the masterpieces of 15th-century European art. In one panel of the altarpiece, the Virgin Mary, wearing a crown of flowers, sits reading a book.
“The miraculous jewels of the Crowned Virgin seemed to attract the light from our flickering acetylene lamps,” Kirstein wrote later. “Calm and beautiful, the altarpiece was, quite simply, there.”
Kirstein and Posey were two members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Allies, a small corps of mostly middle-aged men and a few women who interrupted careers as historians, architects, museum curators and professors to mitigate combat damage. They found and recovered countless artworks stolen by the Nazis.