Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (1483–1520)
Madonna of the Veil (16th century)
chalk on paper, 30.32 x 28.74 in. (77 x 73 cm)
With the outbreak of the war in 1940, the collections of museums in Italy were transferred out of the city centers for protection. The works of art from Florentine museums were mostly moved to privately-owned villas and palazzi in the Tuscan countryside. In 1943, Raphael’s drawing “Madonna of the Veil,” belonging to the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe of the Uffizi Gallery (Inv. 1774 E) was stored for safe-keeping at the Villa Reich, along with the paleographical library of the University of Florence. The home, owned by Commendatore Giovanni Reich, was in Barberino di Mugello, 27 miles north of Florence.
Florentine and German authorities had come to an agreement that all of the evacuated collections would be returned to the city once the danger had passed. However, with Italy’s armistice on September 3, 1943 and its subsequent declaration of war on its former Axis partner only the contents of a few of the deposits were, in fact, returned, and some only in part. As Rome fell in June 1944 and the front neared Florence, representatives of the Deutsche Militärische Kunstschutz, Germany’s “art protection” unit, and Florentine art officials held emergency meetings regarding the repositories in the Tuscan countryside. It was decided that due to the danger of Allied bombers, no further removals were to be made from rural areas back into urban ones. Unfortunately, this agreement was not honored.
At the time of the German occupation of the Villa, the Consegnatario (consignee), Mario Rossi, abandoned the premises and the exact date and circumstances of the removal of Raphael’s drawing are unknown. On September 20, 1944, the first MFAA Officer entered the Villa to inspect it and found it in the “most sickening mess.” The priceless collections had been scattered and the “drawings and documents had in many cases been ground under foot”. The amount of debris, broken glass, and torn and empty frames suggested that the Germans had not placed a high value on the works contained at the home, and that the abandoned drawings on the floor may have been thrown there to clear the dryer, warmer rooms for human habitation.
As of early December 1944, twenty-five drawings were reported missing. By January 1946, all had been recovered but for seven of them, which have never been seen since, including Raphael’s Madonna of the Veil.