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September 7: A Jew in the Cloisters

September 6, 2015

atwarmonument-rorimer-blog480James Joseph Rorimer, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the founder of the Cloisters in New York, was born in Cleveland on this date in 1905. Rorimer graduated from Harvard in 1927 with a degree in fine arts and was immediately hired by the Met, where he worked for his entire life. As curator of medieval art, he completed the brainchild of his mentor Joseph Breck by establishing the Cloisters, the museum’s medieval extension, for which Rorimer acquired many key works, including the Unicorn Tapestries. During World War II he served as officer of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section (MFAA) in Normandy, Paris, and Germany, where he was tasked with retrieving and preserving works of art stolen by the Nazis, including the art collections of both Herman Göring and Josef Goebbels. For this work, Rorimer was awarded the Bronze Star, the Belgian Croix de Guerre, the French Legion of Honor, and the Cross of the Commander of the Order of Denmark. In 1950, he published Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War. He died at 60 in 1966.

“The looting was on a scale that appalled even those, like Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had seen the atrocities of the concentration camps and battlefields firsthand. In ‘caves, in mines, and isolated mountain hide-outs we found that Hitler and his gang... had stored art treasures filched from their rightful owners throughout conquered Europe,’ Eisenhower told an audience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in April 1946. (Listen to the whole speech here.)” —New York Times