Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)
Saint Christopher Carrying the Baby Jesus (c.1471-1493)
mixed media on fir wood panel, 18.11 x 15 in. (46 x 38.10 cm)
Before the war Albrecht Dürer’s Saint Christopher could be found in the Anhalt Picture Gallery Dessau (Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie Dessau). As the Allied bombing campaigns increased, the artistic contents of the museums were evacuated. Saint Christopher was moved to a forester’s lodge in Reuden (Forsthaus Reuden). In the chaos of the final days of the war, the property was left unattended. This painting has not been seen since, and is thought to have been the victim of looting.
Between mid-1942 and the first half of 1943, works of art from the Anhalt Picture Gallery were housed in remote villages throughout the area surrounding Dessau in the assumption that they would be safe, outside of the radius of the air-raid threatened cities. These remote country properties were deemed out of the way enough to shelter the cities’ most important artistic pieces and archival records, and the collection was split up to reduce the amount of damage if one property was found.
However, a remote location does not come without its own risks. The isolated nature of these country houses meant there was often a lack of supervision of both the conditions and security of the paintings, and the danger of damage and theft was therefore inevitable. The properties were visited by restorers in 1943, in which some of the paintings were noted to have mould growth due to excessive humidity.
While the exact dates of transport are not known, the paintings were not moved before July 1942. Up until that point, they had most likely been kept in Zerbst Castle, with the other most valuable pieces. The collection was moved to a variety of buildings, including parsonages, forester’s houses, and schools. They were almost all owned by the then state of Anhalt and had a local person who was in charge of maintenance.
From all accounts these paintings were kept safely in these locations for at least two years. However, in the chaos of the last days of the war, many people fled from the approaching Allied and Red armies. The forester who overlooked forester’s lodge Reuden, Ouvrier, fled with his family. Without supervision, the property was looted in the last days of the war. It is unclear whether the looting was done by locals, displaced persons, or soldiers, but none of the paintings have been seen since. The painting was taken out of its frame, without damage to it or the box in which it was stored, which was box no. 11.
Of the forty-three paintings moved from the Anhalt Picture Gallery to the countryside, thirty-three were recovered after the war ended and returned to Dessau. That leaves ten paintings that are still missing, almost a quarter of the collection. They are mainly all small or medium size, so they were easily carried and hidden, and are predominantly by major German, Flemish and Dutch artists of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.