I first came across the story of Pasquale Rotondi in 2000, when my late husband, Huw, and I bought our dream home in the countryside near Urbino in central Italy. It took longer than we thought to renovate the five-hundred-year-old farmhouse, so between our frequent visits with architects and builders, we spent time in the nearby town of Sassocorvaro, drinking coffee outside a café or eating incredible pasta at one of the local restaurants.
One day, we decided to check out the imposing Rocca in the center of town. Facsimiles of famous paintings were mounted on the walls with explanations for each in Italian. At the time, my Italian was virtually nonexistent, so it was a mystery to us what these displays meant.
Some internet research gave us the story of Pasquale Rotondi and the race to first keep the art safe from the ravages of war, and subsequently, after the German invasion of Italy in 1943, to save it from Hitler’s henchmen. We were surprised we had never heard this story before.