The Rape of Europa: Review and Call to Arms

While Uncle Lumpy loves to share the current workings of the artworld here and abroad, I also feel it is important that we acknowledge some of the great losses the world has suffered.  As a modern bunch, we are all familiar with many of the great works of art through museums, and to a lesser extent, books and photographs.  What we often fail to realize is that we only see a paltry amount of the works of the past; many (tens of thousands) of works have vanished or been destroyed.  Time and human strife are always guilty of such a crime, but one period in history has been substantial in its contribution to our current impoverishment. In September of this year, a documentary was released entitled The Rape of Europa, from which we learn of the incalculable damage done to the world’s art treasures. World War II may have been Hitler’s attempt to rule the world, but the destruction and oppression of its people were only part of his plans.

As the interviews of the documentary slowly unfold, a pattern emerges; much of Hitler’s invasions were based not on the presence of beliefs contrary to his own or even ethnic prejudice, but on the particular works of art contained in the cities and countries chosen for attack.  In early November, an article in the New York Times presented a significant discovery : Hitler’s notebook.  This notebook contained the works most coveted by the Fuhrer, and reads almost as a “to do list” of military targets, based on the value of their artistic treasures, which Hitler wanted to place in his future capital city to support his claims of superiority. Hitler’s greed is only one aspect that has contributed to the current state of things, since massive bombings and subsequent looting played a significant role as well.  Luckily for us, the French people predicted Hitler’s goals and were able to protect the Louvre, but many, many others were not so fortunate.  We are extremely fortunate to still have access to DaVinci’s “Lady with an Ermine,” a work that was recovered after its theft.  But massive numbers of paintings, sculptures, murals, drawings, and relics have vanished, including Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Man” (pictured below).  Even those works that have been recovered are often a point of contention; many works have been transplanted from their original home and retained by countries who believe the works the be a very small recompense for all of their suffering during the war.  One art historian interviewed believes that this cannot be resolved as long as there are people living who still remember the war, and so many must continue to wait to restore bits and pieces of their histories.

I don’t say all of this to depress you, readers, but rather to encourage you to appreciate what we have, and also to call to arms those who may be interested in joining the ongoing search and restoration of these lost masterpieces.  Anyone who loves art should watch The Rape of Europa to really understand what we have lost and what we still have to gain.  It will also be encouraging to learn of the efforts taken even during the war to protect and retrieve; during the many later battles, the military recruited individuals to accompany the soldiers to help protect valuable works.  You think you love art, try taking a bullet for it! Anyway friends, I encourage you to watch The Rape of Europa and really understand the value of art in the world, and its power to alter history.

(The documentary is based on a book of the same name by Lynn H. Nicholas)

One Response to “The Rape of Europa: Review and Call to Arms”

  1. Daniel Says:

    You can find about about future screenings at:

    http://www.pbs.org/therapeofeuropa/airdates.html


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