Bust once among Nazi's hoard of art now on display at MIA

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2013 - 9:28 PM

Rare piece was part of a hoard saved at end of WWII.

St. John the Baptist bust, acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Photo: Charles Walbridge, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

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A rare Renaissance-era bust that was among many great works of art bought or looted by the Nazis during World War II has joined the Minneapolis Institute of Arts collection, in time for the anniversary of the Allies’ victory in Europe.

The terra cotta bust of St. John the Baptist was acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) and put on display Wednesday, 68 years to the day that the Axis powers were defeated in Europe.

This piece “helps the museum tell the remarkable story of the Florentine Renaissance,” Kaywin Feldman, the MIA’s director and president, said in announcing the acquisition.

The bust is the creation of sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano in the early 1500s and was purchased in the Netherlands by the Nazis in 1941 for display in the Führermuseum, a massive complex envisioned but never realized by Hitler to house the West’s great masterpieces.

The bust was hidden in a cache of hoarded masterpieces in an Austrian salt mine, one of several Nazi storage sites. When Hitler’s second-in-command, August Eigruber, realized the war was lost, he ordered the mine and its contents destroyed.

However, the mine director, foreman and the miners created an elaborate plan to save the mines and the precious art tucked away. They removed the Nazi bombs and set off their own carefully controlled explosions that sealed more than 100 tunnels in the mine, rendering the salt and the art protected yet inaccessible.

The Rovezzano bust was saved in 1945 by Allied forces and, ultimately, returned to the Netherlands.

The bust was acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in March during an art fair in the Netherlands.

 

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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