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The Adventures of the Remarkable Five: Great Pictures Before and After WWII (Part 1)

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It is no secret that during the Second World War, the Nazis exported a huge number of world art pieces from the occupied countries. Given the specifics of the genre, this probably had the most serious consequences for painting: the pictures were transported with insufficient precautions (it was hard time!) and often stored in inappropriate places, where dampness and temperature destroyed ancient canvases. So later restorers had to use their entire arsenal of techniques to restore the canvases. Please read stories about the most famous of the saved masterpieces.
The Adventures of the Remarkable Five: Great Pictures Before and After WWII (Part 1)
Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, 1482

This work of the magnificent Italian Renaissance artist Sandro B

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, 1482

This work of the magnificent Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli is called one of the most famous paintings of Western art today (however, it is also one of the most frequently analysed and generally discussed paintings in the world).

The Botticelli’s masterpiece had a hard fate: in 1499, it was included in the collection of Lorenzo Medici, and in 1537, it was transported to Castello and it was there until the extinction of the family (which happened in 1743).

In 1815, the painting was placed in the storerooms of the Florentine Uffizi Palace as "not particularly valuable", and in 1853, the Academy of Arts received it for studying by young artists. In 1919, the Primavera was returned to the Uffizi again, the gallery this time. In general, the picture moved through the storehouses for 400 years, until suddenly at the beginning of the twentieth century it became famous and popular.

During the Italian campaign of the Second World War, the masterpiece was transported to the Montegufoni castle near Florence to protect it from bombing. Subsequently, the painting was returned to the Uffizi, where it is now among the main masterpieces of the gallery. In 1982, the Primavera was restored: with the inexorable passage of time, the paints darkened and got covered with a layer of dust. The restorers have managed to return the painting to its original colours and vibrance, as art critics romantically call it.
Leonardo da Vinci, The Lady with the Ermine, 1489—1490

This is one of only four female portraits by

Leonardo da Vinci, The Lady with the Ermine, 1489—1490

This is one of only four female portraits by Leonardo (including Mona Lisa, of course): the issue of the great artist’s relationship with women is still exciting the researchers' minds.

The Lady with the Ermine also experienced bad times. The picture was repeatedly re-painted by different artists, both famous and not so much. In particular, the background has undergone changes (in the original it was lighter, and there was either a window or a door in the background). In fact, only the lady and the ermine remained of Leonardo’s work (by the way, the lady had a transparent veil), and even they were slightly "corrected". The inscription on the painting was also made not by Leonardo, but by Adam Czartoryski, who bought it at the beginning of the 19th century; he assumed that this was an image of the same woman as on the Louvre’s La Belle Ferronere. This way the painting got to Krakow, then to Paris, and back to Krakow.

Leonardo’s authorship became clear quite late: The Lady with the Ermine is not even mentioned in the catalogue of his works of the 19th century. During both world wars, they tried to protect the painting from damage and destruction, to hide it as good as possible. However, in September 1939, Poland was nevertheless occupied, and the Nazis took possession of the masterpiece. In 1946, the long-suffering canvas was returned to Poland and is still kept in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow.

Read on Part 2 of the material: Vermeer with a swastika, Manet in a salt mine… Amazing stories!

Despite the cultural modernity, the masterpiece "suffers" over time: the examination showed that the chestnut board on which da Vinci painted the picture became more fragile due to the fault of… bark beetles! Plus the entire image was covered with a web of cracks called craquelures. But, in fairness, thanks to Leonardo’s drawing technique the picture has survived to this day in a satisfactory condition. At the moment, a detailed examination of the painting and restoration is required. In the meantime, it has been decided not to take the painting out of the museum for ten years — because of its venerable age.