Guardians of History

Sunday, August 23, 2009


The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II

By Ilaria Dagnini Brey

Farrar Strauss Giroux. 308 pp. $26

They came to the battlefield by way of Harvard, Yale and Oxford. They sported neckerchiefs, cherished a good glass of wine and loved poetry. They were monuments officers -- typically architects and art historians -- with the tough job of protecting Italy's art treasures in World War II.

The Venus Fixers, as they were nicknamed, saw little action at the front. Rather than charging into battle, they collected and catalogued masterpieces among the ruins of Naples and Florence after the war machine had moved on. They propped up church walls, patched leaky ceilings and arranged for guards to protect caches of irreplaceable art.

"While to some comrades the Venus Fixers may have looked like devoted and thorough housemaids, straightening, dusting, rearranging," writes Ilaria Dagnini Brey in her account of these men recruited by the Allied forces, "they were actually watching over a civilization's heritage at a crucial time in its history."

-- Aaron Leitko

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