Ilaria Dagnini Brey is the author of The Venus Fixers, an account of the Monuments Officers, who were assigned by the Allies to preserve and protect the artwork and monuments of Europe from looting and destruction. She is the featured Author on the Record for the Fall 2010 issue of Prologue. We invited her to do a guest post on a document from the National Archives that inspired her. Enjoy!
The Venus Fixers
Iliaria Dagnini Brey
I found this photograph one afternoon at the National Archives at College Park after hours of searching through folders, albums and boxes of images. It made my day.
What struck me most about the photograph was the combination of the military and the religious element in it—soldiers in a shrine, albeit an ancient one—and the resulting peaceful atmosphere of the image. The soldiers are intently at work and look almost like school students during study hall. The massive Dorian columns of the Greek temple seem almost protective of their quiet activity.
At first I thought, how clever to set up an office, as it were, in the cool shade of those ancient stones; and I thought how beautiful, that soldiers from overseas could feel so at home among some of the most ancient ruins of Italy’s civilization.
Then I thought, with dread, of the use that Fascist propaganda could have made of this photo to corroborate its image of Americans as barbarians who did not know, and would not respect, Italian culture. Noticing some African-Americans in this group, I remembered Mussolini’s odious description of the Allied armies that fought in Italy during World War II: “Hottentots, Sudanese, mercenary Indians, American negroes and other zoological specimens.”
I knew instantly that I wanted this photograph for my book, and not only because I loved the glasses that the soldier in the foreground is wearing. It is a potent image of continuity between the past and the present, which was what the the Venus Fixers fought for.
The Venus Fixers is Ilaria Dagnini Brey’s first book. She was born in Padua, Italy. She is a journalist and translator who lives in New York City with her husband, Carter Brey, Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic, and their two children.