By Masha Lee 5:05 pm PST

Through the ages, art has shaped the very fabric of our society. The buildings that house these works are shrines to human thought and experience. Art museums are monuments to what man has achieved and what he aspires to achieve. They are a testimony to man’s desire to be more than himself. – Mark Bouton

Spending time at one of the numerous museums is perhaps one of he most worthwhile activities to do while travelling in in the west. But while visiting a museum can be a culturally enriching part of ones travel itinerary, as the name suggests, this can truly be a divine experience.

La muse. Guillaume Seignac. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

In fact, the name ‘museum’ comes from the worship of ancient Greek goddesses. The muses were nine sister goddesses, each ruling a particular aspect of knowledge or skill, in the arts, mathematics, and sciences, for which they offered inspiration.
The word museum is derived from the Latin word meaning “a place devoted to the Muses”.

The Metropolitan museum of art in NYC, the National Gallery in DC and the Getty in LA are some of the great destinations to see art in major US cities.

But perhaps the most famous of all art museums is the Louvre in Paris, housing the visual/pectoral history of humankind.

But what if, one day, all the art would be destroyed, and lost to the world’s people forever? What if the Louve’s walls were empty, its hallways and great rooms bare?

The frames of the paintings were piled up against the walls and thrown away in the Louvre Museum during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II. (Photo: Internet)

During WW ll however, this was the case, the great art collections were stolen, hidden and destroyed all over Europe on Hitler’s orders, and this work was in danger of being lost forever.

Among these pieces were

The efforts of a few committed and brave art experts, understanding the fundamental importance of art to culture, however, ensured that this legacy would be here for us today, the people of the world. 345 men and women, museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, and educators from thirteen nations joined together to serve in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, devoted to retrieving and protecting masterpieces stolen by the Nazis. The operation singlehandedly saved 60,000 works of art.
Hitler claimed the salt mines of Altaussee Austria as the perfect hideaway for loot intended for his own grand museum. The orders were given to destroy the art rather that let the fall into enemy hands.

In April of 1945, as the war was nearing an end, eight crates into the mines in April. They were marked “Marble – Do Not Drop,” but actually contained 1,100 pound bombs.

By May 21, 1945, according to Nazi records: 6,577 paintings, 2,300 drawings or watercolors, 954 prints, 137 pieces of sculpture, 129 pieces of arms and armor, 79 baskets of objects, 484 cases of objects thought to be archives, 78 pieces of furniture, 122 tapestries were recovered from Altaussee and eventually returned to their rightful homes.

“Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,” also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, by Jan van Eyck was one of the most notable works found in the Altausse mine.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Brother Hubert y Jan van Eyck. Measures: 340 x 440 cm. It is one of the largest altarpieces of northern Europe in the 15th century.
The central theme is the biblical narrative of the redemption of man through the sacrifice of Jesus, offering a reading of Christian theology from the Annunciation (on the outside) to the Adoration of the Lamb (on the inside). (Photo: Wikiart)

Much of this story, nearly unknown and forgotten, was discovered, researched and recorded by Lynn H

Nicholas, in her 1995 book, The Rape of Europa.
In recent years, this story has gained interest from films like the star packed Monuments Men, and Russian historical filmmaker Alexander Sokurov who conveys his personal perspective in his art house documentary, Francofonia, released this year.

“What is the Louvre? asks Sokurov in his film.
“What faces, what souls!
The human search for form, the discovery of the soul.

“Who would I be,
“Had I never seen the eyes of those who lived before me.”

Chinese people know all too well about this phenomenon. Similarly, a plethora of art was intentionally destroyed during the cultural revolution. The results of taking away art from people is to cut off their roots to their past, and roots to a tree is its nurturing life force.

The lead character, Frank stokes, played by George Clooney in The Monuments Men film says, ‘You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.’

There is no better way to affirm that Good triumphs over Evil and the divine essence of an art museum that house the story of mankind and its striving for beauty, than to visit a museum. Visit a museum, sit with its work, be enthralled by the human spirit and its remarkable achievements. Perhaps you will fall in love with an artist’s work, and maybe for a brief moment, you will feel that you have been kissed by a muse.