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Belgium finds a starring role in Hollywood story rooted in Europe

11:50 07/02/2014

George Clooney’s latest film The Monuments Men chronicles the efforts of a group tasked with saving many of Europe’s art treasures from distruction during the Second World War. The story is based on true events that saw some 350 men and women working with Allied countries scour the continent in search of precious artifacts, the majority of the group having backgrounds as architects, artists, curators and museum directors when they signed up for the mission.

Of the more than five million art pieces recovered, a few came from Belgium, including two that originated in Ghent and Bruges, and found their way back after the war. One piece in particular, the altarpiece painted by Jan van Eyck found in Ghent’s Saint Bavo Cathedral, which is featured in the movie, was stolen by Nazis in 1940, only to be recovered from an Austrian salt mine near Altaussee.

The altarpiece will provide the backdrop for the movie’s premier in Belgium, when on March 13 moviegoers will have the chance to watch the film in the Cathedral, paying homage to the period and the work done to save the art.

In Bruges, Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece Madonna and Child in the Church of Our Lady also fell victim to Nazi looting. But it was also discovered in the Altaussee mine lying on a mattress. 

The mine, located about 45 minutes from Salzburg, was Hitler’s chosen location to hide his stolen treasures, which he hoped to display in a museum to be built in Linz, Austria. 

Written by Andrew King