Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
The Venus Fixers

The Venus Fixers

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

Ilaria Dagnini Brey

Picador

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In 1943, while the world was convulsed by war, a few visionaries -- in the private sector and in the military -- committed to protect Europe's cultural heritage from the indiscriminate ravages of World War II.

In the midst of the conflict, the Allied Forces appointed the monuments officers—a motley group of art historians, curators, architects, and artists—to ensure that the great masterworks of European art and architecture were not looted or bombed into oblivion. The journalist Ilaria Dagnini Brey focuses her spellbinding account on the monuments officers of Italy, quickly dubbed "the Venus Fixers" by bemused troops.

Working on the front lines in conditions of great deprivation and danger, these unlikely soldiers stripped the great galleries of their incomparable holdings and sent them into safety by any means they could. They worked with skeptical army strategists to make sure air raids didn't take out the heart of an ancient city, and patched up Renaissance palazzi and ancient churches whose lead roofs were sometimes melted away by the savagery of the attacks. Sometimes they failed. But to an astonishing degree, they succeeded, and anyone who marvels at Italy's artistic riches today is witnessing their handiwork.

In the course of her research, Brey gained unprecedented access to private archives and primary sources, and the result is a book at once thorough and grandly entertaining—a revelatory take on a little-known chapter of World War II history. The Venus Fixers is an adventure story with the gorgeous tints of a Botticelli landscape as its backdrop.

EXCERPT

PROLOGUE

Florence looked pale and indistinct to Lt. Benjamin McCartney as he approached it aboard his Martin B-26 Marauder on the morning of March 11, 1944. It wasn't haze that blurred the city skyline on that morning; in fact, as he would...

Reviews

Praise for The Venus Fixers

“Art and war come together in this superbly researched history that reveals how Italy's Renaissance masterpieces were caught in the crossfire of World War II. Ilaria Dagnini Brey recounts how many of these works almost miraculously survived, and who we have to thank for saving them--a somewhat unlikely crew of art historians, scholars, and architects. She shows how their quiet courage stood between some of the world's greatest treasures and a fate almost unbearable to contemplate.” —Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

“The Venus Fixers is an extraordinary story--tragic, poignant, and inspiring by turn. A must-read for anyone who recognizes that the mute victims of any country's war are frequently its works of art, it brings to light a little-known and entirely absorbing aspect of World War II.” —Caroline P. Murphy, author of Murder of a Medici Princess

“Ilaria Dagnini Brey expertly recounts the race to protect masterpieces of art and architecture caught on the battlefront. Fascinating and brilliantly researched, The Venus Fixers is a story of Botticellis hidden in castles, the monuments officers' heroism, and the art's often narrow escape, played out against air strikes and looting, leveled churches and shattered frescoes.” —Cynthia Saltzman, author of Old Masters, New World: America's Raid on Europe's Great Pictures

“In this finely written and researched first book, full of anecdotes that will fascinate all art lovers, Ilaria Dagnini Brey adds wonderful insight and detail to the gripping story of the miraculous preservation of many of the world's most treasured masterpieces during the Allied campaign in Italy. The heroes are the curators of Italy's patrimony and the fabled monuments men attached to the Allied invasion forces, and Ms. Brey does them proud.” —Lynn H. Nicholas, author of The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War

“A significant and original contribution to World War II and art history alike.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

“A thrilling adventure, full of scheming aesthetes and exploding Mantegnas . . . Brey tells this story with concision and grace.” —Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine

“An illuminating book . . . Elegant and compelling history, which is equally a blueprint for the safeguarding of our human heritage in future struggles.” —The American Scholar

“An engaging and important addition to the vast library of books about World War II . . . Brey has firm command of art and military history and does an excellent job of evoking the atmosphere of a war-torn country.” —Michael Riedel, New York Post

“Brey makes a significant contribution by delving into previously unexplored Italian archives to flesh out the perspective of the native population amid the chaos of war.” —Jonathan Lopez, The Boston Globe

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Ilaria Dagnini Brey

Ilaria Dagnini Brey is a journalist and translator who was born in Padua, Italy. She now lives in New York City with her husband, Carter Brey, the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic. The Venus Fixers is her first book.

Ilaria Dagnini Brey

Ilaria Dagnini Brey

From the Publisher

Picador

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