Rescuing Da Vinci tells the story of art seized by the Germans during World War II and how the art was recovered by a special group. Rescuing Da Vinci is the basis for the movie The Monuments Men.
As a young man, Adolf Hitler applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna but was rejected. Later, as the leader of Germany, he dreamed of establishing an art museum in his birthplace, Linz, Austria.
As Germany conquered countries during World War II, Hitler had units hunt down and collect art. Many European museums prepared before hostilities started by closing and moving their art to hiding places.
Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is included in the book, but the painting was never seized by the Germans. Like many other pieces owned by the Louvre, it was packed up and hidden. The French moved it six times during the war to evade seizure.
Art held by private collectors didn’t fare as well. For example, Vermeer’s The Astronomer was owned by a Jewish banker in Paris, and the Germans seized it. The Astronomer was eventually found it a mine in Austria and returned to the owner. The painting was subsequently sold to the French government as part of a settlement of inheritance taxes, and it now hangs in The Louvre.
Rescuing Da Vinci has lots of good pictures of World War II to help tell the story. Two paintings by Hitler aren’t bad; photos of devastated German cities are sad. The book discusses one da Vinci painting rescued. Shown on the book cover, it was in Poland and unknown to me, so the title is a stretch. The story is decent but less dramatic than the movie. Rescuing Da Vinci will appeal to folks who saw the movie and want to learn more, but there’s not much more because most of the best art was successfully secreted away.