Congressional Gold Medal Awarded to the Monuments Men
On view in the Louis I. Kahn Building
On October 22, 2015, in Washington, D.C., the Monuments Men received the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal. The distinctively designed medal will be on view at the Kimbell Art Museum from November 11 through November 15, 2015.
The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from 14 nations who protected and recovered historical sites and cultural artifacts during World War II. President Roosevelt created the Allied division—made up of educators, art historians and architects—charged with preserving and protecting priceless artifacts around Europe, which faced destruction under Hitler-led Nazi forces. Without their efforts, thousands of works of art and monuments that created the rich cultural history in Europe would have been lost forever.
"The important legacy of the Monuments Men is reflected on the walls of the great museums around the world," commented Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum. "We owe them a great debt, and I congratulate them on this esteemed honor. It is with great pleasure that the Kimbell Art Museum displays the Congressional Gold Medal."
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor the United States Congress can bestow. It is awarded to persons "who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient's field long after the achievement." The Monuments Men medal was specifically designed in collaboration with the Monuments Men Foundation and artists at the U.S. Mint.
The principal face of this custom-designed medal shows United States soldiers with some of the artworks and artifacts that they helped to preserve. The foremost soldier steadies the frame of Johannes Vermeer's Astronomer from the Rothschild collection, now at the Musée du Louvre, and displays a Torah Scroll, symbolic of the many Judaic objects rescued by the forces. Behind him, soldiers hold up one of the arched panels of music-making angels from the famous Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, and another holds a Rembrandt self-portrait returned to the city museum of Karlsruhe, Germany. On the reverse, surrounding a quotation from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, are images of works preserved by the force, or works that remain missing 70 years after the end of hostilities. From lower left, the works represented are by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Cranach and again Vermeer.
George Washington received the first medal. Other past recipients include United States Presidents Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan; pioneers/explorers the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Neil Armstrong; military figures and groups Generals Ulysses S. Grant, George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur, plus the Tuskegee Airmen and the Doolittle Raiders; celebrities Bob Hope and John Wayne; foreign dignitary Sir Winston Churchill; artists/musicians George Gershwin, Robert Frost and Andrew Wyeth; athletes Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson and Jack Nicklaus; religious figures Pope John Paul II, Rev. Billy Graham, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama; and human rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Elie Wiesel and Nelson Mandela.