Remembering a Monuments Man, Frederick Hartt

On this day in 1991, the world lost one of the most prominent art historians, Frederick Hartt. Not only was he one of the most famous Renaissance Art historians of his time, but he was also one of the Monuments Men, whose work in Tuscany during the Second World War is celebrated in Robert Edsel’s book “Saving Italy”.

Hartt’s History of Italian Renaissance Art is considered an unrivaled classic among those interested in Italian art from 1200-1594. While he dedicated pages in his book to the frescoes of Giotto and his school, his description of the church itself is succinct, “The construction of Santa Croce, founded in 1294, was continued well into the Trecento… While the church lacks the unearthly harmony of Santa Maria Novella, the loftiness and openness of its arches make it seem vast, almost endless. Its timber roof, instead of having the barnlike look so frequent in Italian preaching churches, is so richly treated that it contributes to the sense of mystery and grandeur.”

Santa Croce nave

Hartt’s love of Italy and specially Florence is reflected also in the fact that his last wish was to be buried in the cemetery of the San Miniato church in Florence. His long time friend Pina Raggionieri, director of Casa Buonarroti reminisces, “This sweet old man was really loved by me and my collaborators; and because of that we promised to let him see all of our 205 Michelangelo drawings, and to let him consult at his ease the important Buonarroti Archive. Hartt, then seventy years old, finally was allowed to come and sit down in our special security archives room: he stayed there for long hours in ecstatic admiration; and later in his last years was even moved to tears. He was grateful to me forever, and any time he returned to Florence, he came to visit us, in that House where he was not the only one to feel the presence of a greater shadow [Michelangelo’s].” {Sta di fatto che questo delizioso vecchio signore fu molto amato da me e dai miei collaboratori; e da qui nacque la promessa di fargli vedere tutti e i duecentocinque nostri disegni michelangioleschi, e di lasciargli consultare a suo piacere il prezioso Archivio Buonarroti. Hartt, ormai settantenne, si sedette finalmente, e più di una volta, nella nostra stanza blindata: ci rimaneva molto a lungo, in estatica ammirazione; a volte, nei suoi ultimi anni, commosso fino alle lacrime. Me ne fu riconoscente per sempre, e ogni volta che tornava a Firenze veniva a trovarci, in quella Casa dove non era lui il solo a sentire l’incombere di un’ombra più grande.}

Frederick Hartt posing in front of his Jeep, Lucky 13.
Frederick Hartt posing in front of his Jeep, Lucky 13.

Hartt’s own memoirs as one of the Monuments Men in Florence were complied in the book, Florentine Art Under Fire, published in 1949. While it has been out of print for decades now, its is a touching memoir and tribute to his beloved city.

February 16th, 1945. Hartt in front of his Jeep, Lucky 13, is watching the return of the Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I de Medici in its place in Piazza della Signoria

“I lost my heart to Italy at the time of my very first visit to that beautiful land.”  F. Hartt, 1936.

Paola Vojnovic, Opera di Santa Croce

Photos: courtesy of The Monuments Men Foundation


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