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 Frederick Hartt (1914-1991) 


Professor and renowned scholar of Italian Renaissance art, Frederick Hartt was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 22, 1914. He received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1935 before studying briefly at Princeton University’s Institute of Advanced Study. He spent the summer of 1936 in Europe, where he began a lifelong admiration for all things Italian. In his own words, “I lost my heart to Italy at the time of my very first visit to that beautiful land.” He then enrolled in the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, where he earned an M.A. in Italian art in 1937. He lectured on art history at Bennett Junior College in Millbrook, New York from 1939 to 1941, and then worked as an assistant and cataloguer at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut.


Hartt enlisted in April 1942 and received his commission in the U.S. Army in July 1943. He arrived in Italy on January 14, 1944, and was assigned as a photo interpreter with the 90th Photo Wing Reconnaissance in San Severo. There, he evaluated aerial photos after bombings to determine the level of collateral damage sustained by nearby monuments. Hartt was thus confronted with the destruction of the same works of art and monuments he had fallen in love with years prior, but was helpless to act. He longed to get out from behind his desk and actively work to prevent further damages. To this end, Hartt wrote a letter to Monuments Man Maj. Ernest T. DeWald, Director of the MFAA, and begged to be transferred to work as a Monuments Man; DeWald approved his request.


Hartt received his orders and was transferred to the headquarters of U.S. Fifth Army in Naples, Italy. In Naples, he joined Monuments Officers Capt. Deane Keller, Maj. Ernest DeWald, and Lt. Cdr. Perry Cott. Together, the Monuments Men in Italy were responsible for safeguarding and recovering some of the world’s most treasured works of art. When the U.S. Army seized Rome in June 1944, Hartt compiled a damage assessment report of the city’s most prominent monuments. After the bombing of Florence, he composed an official report of damages sustained by such notable Florentine monuments as the Uffizi, the Duomo, the Baptistery, and the churches of Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, and San Lorenzo. Of the six Florentine bridges, only one, the Ponte Vecchio, had been spared by German explosives.


In early August 1944 Hartt participated in the discovery of hundreds of works of art from the Florentine public collections, principally the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace. The works had been evacuated from the city for safety safety by Florentine officials, but many prominent items had been looted by German soldiers. Almost one year would pass before Keller and Hartt would discover the missing masterpieces in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy.


In May 1945, in an old jail in the town of San Leonardo, Keller and Hartt found paintings by Caravaggio, Rubens, Cranach, and Botticelli. Several days later, works of art by Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael were found in the carriage house of Castle Neumelans in Campo Tures. Hartt assisted Keller with preparing the items for shipment home to Florence by rail. Escorted by a security detachment of sixty military police, the train pulled into Florence’s Campo di Marti station on July 21st. The next morning, Hartt and Keller took part in a parade of military trucks which entered Piazza della Signoria to great applause by thousands of jubilant Florentines.


Hartt returned to the United States in 1946 and became a visiting lecturer at Smith College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he also served as Acting Director of the Smith College Art Museum until 1947. After completing his Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU in 1949, Hartt went on to have a distinguished career as a professor at numerous American institutions, including Washington University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Virginia. He retired in 1984.


For his wartime efforts to preserve and recover Italian art, Hartt was awarded the Bronze Star. As a symbol of their deep appreciation, the Italian government named him a knight of the Crown of Italy, an honorary citizen of Florence, and awarded him the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. He remained devoted to the preservation of art for the duration of his life. He served on the board of directors of the American Committee for the Restoration of Italian Monuments, and was a member of the Committee to Rescue Italian Art, The Renaissance Society of America and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Frederick Hartt died in Washington, D.C. on October 31, 1991. On Friday, March 5, 1993, the city of Florence welcomed the urn containing his ashes for burial with full honors at the cemetery of the Church of San Miniato al Monte. In attendance were both of Hartt’s wartime drivers, Franco Ruggenini and Alessandro Olschki.

Photo courtesy of the Walter Gleason Collection, The Monuments Men Foundation Collection, the National WWII Museum, New Orleans, LA.

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