It was the question on Robert Edsel’s mind as he toured Italy in the late 1990s. Gazing at centuries of cultural heritage created by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, he wondered how the works of art endured World War II unscathed. What he learned resulted in a bestselling book that has now been made into a motion picture directed by and starring George Clooney.
The “how,” Edsel discovered, were the Monuments Men, a motley crew of art historians, curators, museum directors and artists put in military uniform and tasked by the U.S. government with saving Europe’s great works of art from ruin.
The author of “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History” will discuss the legacy of these soldiers and their Hollywood depiction when he appears at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle Thursday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. as part of the Masters Series. He will also describe the Monuments Men connection to former Toledo Museum of Art director Otto Wittmann.
Wittmann was noted for building TMA into an internationally-known institution during his tenure as director from 1959 to 1976. But before he led the Museum, he served as the officer in charge of the Art Looting Investigation Unit’s OSS Washington Office, traveling to Europe to probe Nazi theft, especially from French Jewish collections.
“Otto Wittmann and the other Monuments Men helped to save more than 1,000 years of culture from being looted or destroyed,” said TMA Director Brian Kennedy. “Mr. Edsel did their story justice by sharing what an incredibly heroic act this was for a group of people well-versed in art and history, not combat. It’s a fascinating true story and the Museum is pleased Mr. Edsel has agreed to share it with us in person.”
Though Wittmann’s role is not mentioned in the book or its film version, he is honored by the Monuments Men Foundation, an organization that Edsel founded to preserve both their history and mission.
Edsel’s lecture is supported in part by the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library and is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a book signing with the author. Arrangements for Edsel’s appearance were made through Greater Talent Network, Inc., New York, NY.