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De Vinna, Maurice A., Jr. | DeWald, Lt. Col. Ernest T. | Dewitt, Maj. Roscoe P.

DeWald, Lt. Col. Ernest T.  

Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1891, Ernest T. DeWald received his Bachelor of Arts in 1911 from Rutgers and a Masters and PhD from Princeton in 1914 and 1916. During World War I he served as a Lieutenant of Infantry and later was appointed Assistant Military Attaché in the American Legations at Berne and Warsaw (1916-1919).1 Following DeWald’s return to the U.S., he taught briefly at Rutgers and Columbia before becoming an associate Professor of Art at Princeton in 1925. DeWald became full Professor in 1939 and was granted a leave of absence from Princeton in 1943 to join the U.S. Army.

DeWald served as Director of the MFAA Subcommission of the Allied Control Commission in Italy from 1943 to 1946 first as a major, and later as a lieutenant-colonel. He began work in northern Africa pinpointing monuments with historic or artistic importance to troops and officers involved in the forthcoming invasion of Italy. In his March 23, 1944 statement to the Secretary General of the Allied Control Commission, DeWald explained the mission of the MFAA:

To prevent as far as possible destruction of and damage to historical monuments, buildings, works of art and historical records in Italy; to safeguard and preserve them, and to give first-aid in repairs when needed; and to assist in the recovery and restitution to their rightful owners of any works of art which have been looted, removed, or otherwise misappropriated.2

As the Allied invasion of Italy advanced, DeWald traveled with U.S. Armed Forces through Sicily and the Italian mainland. Moving into towns with front-line forces, DeWald oversaw troops making temporary emergency repairs to damaged buildings and monuments, while more permanent restoration was left to local community officials or the national government. DeWald’s duties also included locating and returning art that had been hidden across the countryside for safekeeping to Italian museums. Among the innumerable damaged buildings he inspected in Italy was Monte Cassino, the historic abbey destroyed by Allied bombing based on the assumption (which later proved wrong) that the monastery was being used by German defenders.

By late 1944, Major DeWald was Director of the MFAA stationed in Rome and while there, prepared the Soldier’s Guide to Rome, published by the Allied Control Commission in Italy. The small guide book was intended to acquaint the soldiers with the cultural value of the ancient treasures of Rome, while also serving as a reminder that the “eyes of all the world are upon our actions in the “Eternal City”, and we will show the world by our example the high standard of conduct and bearing of our victorious Allied Armies.”3

As the Allies advanced into Germany and Austria in 1945, DeWald was transferred to Austria where he was among the group of Monuments officers who discovered Nazi caches of artworks intended for Hitler’s museum in Linz, as well as two great libraries removed from Rome. Paintings stolen from Monte Cassino by the Hermann Göring Division were also found and returned to Italy. By the time DeWald returned home in early 1946, he reported “all of the movable works of art in important Italian collections, with the exception of eighteen paintings, had survived the war undamaged.”4 In discussing his involvement with the MFAA, he said that it was one of the unique enterprises of World War II, a result of the “agitation of American and British museums and universities.”5

In 1946 DeWald returned to Princeton as a full professor and wrote the introduction to Henry La Farge’s book Lost Treasures of Europe, a photographic documentation of art and architecture lost during the war. In 1947, DeWald was named Director of the Princeton University Art Museum and he remained in these positions until his retirement in 1960. As an expert on medieval illuminated manuscripts and early Italian painting he wrote numerous articles and books including The Stuttgart Psalter (1930), Pietro Lorenzetti (1930), The Illustrations of the Utrecht Psalter (1932) and Italian Painting 1200-1600 (1961).

In 1967 DeWald was named a member of the United States National Advisory Committee to the National Committee to Rescue Italian Art after floods severely damaged Florence. He received numerous awards during his lifetime, including the Knight of the Crown of Belgium on behalf of King Leopold for arranging a Belgian art exhibition in 1937, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Rutgers in 1946. For his service with the MFAA, DeWald was awarded the Order of the British Empire (1946), the Legion of Merit (1946), and the Star of Italian Solidarity (1951). He passed away on October 6, 1968 at the age of 77.

1. Carl Otto von Kienbusch, “Ernest Theodore DeWald: Introduction,” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, Vol. 19, No. 1 Special Number in Honor of the Director Ernest Theodore DeWald on the Occasion of his Retirement (1990): 3.
2. Report of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Washington, D.C., 1946), 60.
3. Introduction by General H.R. Alexander in Major Ernest DeWald, Soldier’s Guide to Rome (Italy: Allied Control Commission, ca.1944),
4. Biographical Information, Professor Ernest T. DeWald, Department of Art and Archaeology, Special Collections, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University.
5. Ibid.


Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art