The Monuments Men

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E. Christopher Norris ( 1907-1987 )

British art historian E. Christopher Norris was considered to be one of the leading experts on the works of Peter Paul Rubens. After periods living successively in Madrid, Paris and Florence, he studied art in Munich and Göttingen. Though he never graduated, he made a living by lecturing on Rubens at the Courtauld Institute of Art and advising wealthy art collectors. Meanwhile, he began to accumulate his own collection of quality paintings including a work by Nicolas Poussin, which he donated to the National Gallery in 1944.

Norris first saw active duty with the Royal Air Force during the bombing of the German town of Lübeck in early 1942. In October 1943, he was instructed by Air Marshal Arthur William Tedder to create a detailed list of important monuments and towns north of the Italian Capua-Termoli line. This integral list included whole towns of value as well as depots being used as temporary safe havens for art removed from museums. Norris’s report was used as a basis for annotated air photographs issued by the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (MAAF) and intended to reduce air traffic over historic towns and monuments in the region. Such information would also later aid in the August 1947 restitution of works belonging to the Naples Museum, which were stolen from the abbey of Monte Cassino by Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1 (the Hermann Goering Panzer Division) in 1943.

In 1945, Norris was recommended for service as an art protection officer with the Allied Control Commission by his friend, Monuments Man Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb. He arrived at headquarters in Berlin as a British MFAA Officer on August 22, 1945. Together with Webb, Norris participated in negotiations over repatriation agreements and advocated for the creation of a bi-zonal organization to better aid in restitutions across the American and British Zones. In July 1946, Norris was named Webb’s successor to the post of Chief of the British Section of the MFAA.

Norris left Germany in 1950 and returned to London. He died in 1987 at the age of eighty after a battle with cancer.