by: Valerie Elverton-Dixon on February 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »
When we think of the casualties of war, we think of the physical death of human beings. We think of the physical, psychological and moral injury warriors suffer. We think of the collateral damage of non-combatants killed, thus making the idea of a just war an impossibility. We may sometimes stretch our imaginations to include an injured earth, a wounded natural world where animals die. In the movie “The Monuments Men”, directed by and starring George Clooney, we see other casualties of war – fine art. We see a dedicated quest for a particular piece of art, the Bruges Madonna and Child, a representation of the feminine divine.
The movie is based on the real-life Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Task Force, a group of trained art historians, architects and designers whose purpose was to protect important monuments, buildings, and fine art if possible. They were to also locate and seek to return art stolen by the Nazis. The central question of the movie is whether or not a piece of art is worth a human life. Commanders in the field are loathe to risk the lives of their men over a work of art. If the decision comes down to bombing an important building considered a monument worth protecting and winning the battle, the battle takes priority.
The Allied forces destroyed many monuments during bombing campaigns, even when they were told of their artistic value. This story along with the story of the real-life Monuments Men are told in an excellent documentary “The Rape of Europa.” We see the astonishing number of works of art, religious objects, and everyday household furnishings that were stolen by the Nazis. However, one object becomes supremely important in “The Monuments Men” – The Bruges Madonna and Child.
This work of art depicting the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. Toward the beginning of the movie, we hear Clooney’s character – George Stout – tell his men not to risk their lives for a piece of art. However, as the movie unfolds, we see the Monuments Men willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of art.