Eminent Italian Renaissance scholar, author and professor of art history Frederick Hartt visited Florence many times during his life, but on two particular occasions he came to help the city in the wake of the gravest catastrophes it faced in the twentieth century. The first was to recover artworks in the aftermath of a war and the second to save Florence’s masterpieces from the ravages of the 1966 flood.
Born in Boston on May 22, 1914, Hartt earned his first degree in art history at Columbia College in 1935. After spending the summer of 1936 in Europe, he confessed, “I lost my heart to Italy at the time of my very first visit to that beautiful land.” When World War II broke out, as a lieutenant in the US military he was sent to Italy in January 1944 and initially assigned as a photo interpreter until, at his request, he was transferred to the U.S. Fifth Army in Naples, as a “Monuments Man”. Arriving in Florence with the advancing Allied forces in time for the liberation of the city in August 1944, Hartt and his driver could often be seen careening around the countryside in his Jeep, dubbed Lucky 13. His job was to participate in the recovery of hundreds of paintings and other works belonging to the Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace and various other collections. Some of these works had been hidden outside of the city for safety, but countless others had been looted by the occupying German forces. Hartt recounts his experiences in his book Florence Under Fire (1949).