5. Altarpiece of Veit Stoss
Sculptor: Veit Stoss
Veit Stoss is a famous German sculptor who passed away in 1533. His career spanned the transitional period between the late Gothic and the Northern Renaissance style of architecture. Stoss primarily worked as a wood sculptor. In the early part of his career he was approached by the people of Kraków, Poland and asked to build a magnificent altarpiece. He agreed and developed the Altarpiece of Veit Stoss, which is the largest gothic altarpiece in the world. It measures 13 m high and 11 m wide when the panels are open. The piece is covered with incredible statue figures, which are more than 12 ft. tall and are carved from the tree trunk of a lime.
Prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Hitler was well aware of the historic altarpiece and unjustly felt that it was his because Veit Stoss was a German sculptor. Before the invasion of Poland, the altarpiece was taken apart and hid in various locations. However, it was still discovered by the Nazis and stolen. A German unit called the Sonderkommando Paulsen located the crates containing the altarpiece and had the statues and panels shipped to Berlin. It was kept at Nuremberg Castle.
During the war, many members of the Polish resistance relayed the message that the altarpiece was being held at Nuremberg Castle. Luckily, it was not significantly damaged during the liberation of Nazi Germany and was recovered by Allied forces. The Polish National Treasure was immediately returned and in 1957 it was placed in St. Mary’s Church, Kraków, Poland, where it remains today. The altarpiece underwent restoration from 1946-1949 to fix the structural damage caused by the Nazis.
4. Place de la Concorde
Artist: Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas is considered one of the founders of the Impressionism art movement. He was a popular French artist that lived predominately during the 19th century. After the collapse of Nazi Germany, the Red Army was the first to invade Berlin. During this time, the Soviets discovered hundred of hidden repositories of art. The Soviet government has been criticized over the years for not reporting many of these discoveries. In 1991, it became known that some paintings looted by the Red Army in Germany had been put on display at the Hermitage Museum located in Saint Petersburg, Russia. After intense pressures, the museum announced in 1994 that they had displayed some pieces of art that had been looted from German private collections.
One should realize that art taken from German homes and underground storage facilities in 1945 consisted of a large amount of stolen goods. The exhibition “Hidden Treasures Revealed” premiered in 1995 at the museum. It consisted of 74 separate paintings that were displayed for the first time, including the world famous Place de la Concorde by Edgar Degas. Place de la Concorde was painted by Degas in 1875. It depicts the cigar smoking Vicomte Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic, his daughters, and his dog. It also shows a solitary man in Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Place de la Concorde has always been considered one of Degas signature portraits. It was thought lost after World War II, but showed up at the Hermitage Museum in 1995. The famous painting remains on display at the Hermitage. Another painting that appeared at the Hermitage in 1995 is the van Gogh masterpiece White House at Night. White House at Night was also thought to be lost after the war. It was painted six weeks before van Gogh’s death. In December 2004, another looted work was discovered at the museum, the Venus disarming Mars by Rubens. The French master Henri Matisse also has many of his early paintings on display at the Hermitage. During World War II, Matisse’s paintings were widely distributed and stolen. Today, they can be found in museums all over the world. The story of how the Place de la Concorde survived is not documented to the public. It is simply listed at the Hermitage as “provenance unknown.”
3. The Astronomer
Artist: Johannes Vermeer
Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who lived from 1632-1675. During his lifetime, Vermeer was moderately successful and has since become one of the most well known painters of the Baroque period of art. He tended to paint portraits of domestic middle class life and many of Vermeer’s paintings were of scientists. Hitler was a big follower of Johannes Vermeer and made it his ultimate goal to own all of his paintings. In 1940, one of Vermeer’s most cherished works, The Astronomer, was owned by a French man named Edouard de Rothschild. After the German invasion of France, the painting was stolen by the Nazis. The Astronomer became one of Hitler’s prized possessions and was meant to be the focal point of the Führermuseum. The Führermuseum was a large museum complex that Hitler planned on creating. It was meant to store and display all of the plundered European art. A black swastika was stamped on the back of The Astronomer, where it remains today.
The Astronomer was finished by Vermeer around 1668. The art was created with oil on canvas, and measures 51cm x 45cm. The painting is linked with another famous Vermeer portrait named The Geographer. Both paintings are thought to portray the same man, which could be Anton van Leeuwenhoek. The Astronomer shows incredible detail. In the painting the book located on the table is turned to a specific page, which is a section that is advising the astronomer to seek “inspiration from God.”
In the portrait, the picture on the wall shows the finding of Moses. After the war ended, The Astronomer was returned to the Rothschild’s. It was then donated to the famous French museum Louvre in 1982. It remains one of the museum’s most prized possessions. Vermeer’s The Geographer had a bit of a different fate. The Geographer is located at the Städel, which is one of the largest art museums in Germany.
2. Amber Room
Designer: Andreas Schlüter
Andreas Schlüter was German baroque sculptor and architect that lived at the end of the 17th century. Along with Gottfried Wolfram, who was a Danish amber craftsman, Schlüter was the one that designed the Amber Room. Construction of the Amber Room began in 1701 and the room was installed at Charlottenburg Palace, home of Friedrich I, the first King of Prussia. As the name implies, the Amber Room was sculpted out of amber, which is a gemstone made from fossilized tree resin. The room also contained many jewels, paintings, and gold. In 1716, the Amber Room was given to Peter the Great to celebrate peace between Russia and Prussia, and an alliance against Sweden. In 1755, Tsarina Elizabeth of Russia had the room transferred to the Catherine Palace, where Frederick II the Great had more amber sent for reconstructions. Many renovations took place on the Amber Room throughout the 18th century, ultimately measuring 55 square meters and containing over six tones of amber.
During World War II, Hitler was very familiar with the Amber Room and felt that it should be in German possession. The Nazi army reached the Amber Room after taking control of the city of Leningrad. Hitler sent a group of men to dismantle the priceless piece of art. The Soviet army was unable to properly hide the Amber Room because it was crumbling as they tried to dismantle it. The Nazi army put the Amber Room in 27 separate crates and sent it to Königsberg in East Prussia. On January 21, 1945 Hitler ordered the relocation of many pieces of art. German leader Erich Koch was in charge of the Amber Room and may have decided to move it out of the city. Later in the war, Königsberg was heavily bombed by the Royal Air Force and the Soviet military. The Amber Room was never heard from again.
The disappearance of the Amber Room is one of the great mysteries of World War II. Some reports have claimed that the room survived the war, while others have stated that it was destroyed by bombings or hidden in a lost bunker. One theory has the Amber Room being loaded onto a German ship or submarine that was sunk by Soviet forces in the Baltic Sea. Many different groups have been organized over the years in hopes of discovering the lost treasure. In 2008, German treasure hunters claimed to have found the Amber Room. The discovery of an estimated two tons of gold and silver was made, but it was hard to gain access to the site because of deadly booby traps.
The finding was never confirmed to be that of the Amber Room and some reports indicated that clues to the whereabouts of the Amber Room were discovered at the site. Recently, the Amber Room Organization has announced another discovery that was made in the mountains about 30 miles east of Weimar. A German ARO spokesman named Henry Hatt has stated that he knows where the Amber Room is hidden. Apparently, he claims that the treasure was transported to the county of Saalfeld and hidden in an old underground mining chamber. This story has not been confirmed.
1. Madonna of Bruges
Michelangelo was an Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor. He lived from 1475-1564 and is most widely known for his sculptures Pietà and David. In the early 1500s Michelangelo created the masterpiece Madonna of Bruges. The sculpture is made of marble and is 128 cm in dimension. Madonna of Bruges is a depiction of Mary with the baby Jesus. It is noted for being largely unique in comparison to other statues of Mary and Jesus created during the time of Michelangelo. Most depictions show a smiling Mary looking down on a baby Jesus. However, in Madonna of Bruges, Mary doesn’t cling to Jesus or even look at him. She has a steady gaze down and away from the child. It seems that Mary knows the fate of her son.
The sculpture is also notable for being the only Michelangelo work to leave Italy during his lifetime. It was purchased by a family of wealthy cloth merchants from Bruges. Bruges is a city located in the northwest corner of Belgium. The Madonna of Bruges has only been removed from Belgium on two separate incidents in history. The first came in 1794, after French Revolutionaries had conquered the Austrian Netherlands. At that time, Napoleon ordered the people of Bruges to pack up the Madonn and ship it to France. The sculpture was returned after the defeat of Napoleon. The second removal occurred in 1944 when German soldiers were retreating from the area. The soldiers smuggled the Madonna to Germany in a group of mattresses transported by a Red Cross truck. Two years later the sculpture was found by Allied forces and returned to Bruges.
The Madonna of Bruges is located at the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium. It has been kept at the Church of Our Lady since 1514 and this is where the sculpture belongs and will hopefully stay forever. It is a cherished piece of art and is kept behind a piece of bulletproof glass. Visitors are also required to stay 15 feet away from the sculpture. These measures were taken after the 1972 attack on Michelangelo’s Pietà. In 1972, a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth attacked the sculpture, which is located at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Toth took a geologists hammer and bashed the Pietà while screaming “I am Jesus Christ.” It suffered significant damage and many pieces of marble were broken from the statue. To make things worse, people stole these pieces, which included the nose of Mary.