"What struck me most about the photograph was the combination of the military and the religious element in it—soldiers in a shrine, albeit an ancient one—and the resulting peaceful atmosphere of the image. The soldiers are intently at work and look almost like school students during study hall. The massive Dorian columns of the Greek temple seem almost protective of their quiet activity…. Noticing some African-Americans in this group, I remembered Mussolini’s odious description of the Allied armies that fought in Italy during World War II: “Hottentots, Sudanese, mercenary Indians, American negroes and other zoological specimens.” I knew instantly that I wanted this photograph for my book…. It is a potent image of continuity between the past and the present, which was what the the Venus Fixers fought for."
Benjamin Moser 's description of his response to the book in Harpers resonated with me:
I love a Van Eyck in a salt mine. I savor a discussion on the fate of the Czartoryski Raphael or the Amber Room. I was one of maybe ten people who read all three recent books about the Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren. So when Ilaria Dagnini Brey's The Venus Fixers turned up in my P.O. box, there was never any question of resisting.... It's a thrilling adventure, full of scheming aesthetes and exploding Mantegnas, even for readers not predisposed to excitement about this kind of thing. The story begins shortly before the Allied landings in Sicily in 1943, when alarm over the widespread destruction of Europe's cultural heritage moved President Franklin Roosevelt to establish a commission to preserve as many artistic monuments as possible, an initiative, one general said, that was "without historical precedent in any military campaign." The first step was to draw up extensive lists of treasures that troops might meet along the way, and then to gather experts in the preservation of paintings, libraries, archives, and architecture, men with military rank who would accompany the advancing armies.
|An Italian marble worker repairs the statue of an angel in Palermo.|