This new discovery of the "Lost Pieta" painted by Michelangelo and found outside of Buffalo, New York, in the home of a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel made me think back to an experience I had a few years ago.
Both stories start out similarly for they both concern officers in the Air Force and both stories involve priceless works of art, but it is here that the two stories go their separate ways. The retired lieutenant colonel always knew where his painting was. I took two Air Force captains on a wild goose chase through Cologne (Koln), Germany, looking for my masterpiece. Both my daughter and son-in-law were serving in the Air Force at the time as captains and serving overseas in Germany.
On this particular day we were enjoying what Cologne had to offer. By chance I found out about a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, (my favorite painter) which was hanging in St. Peter's a Gothic Jesuit Church some distance from the city center. A map of the city was put into the capable hands of my son-in-law and off we went winding through the streets of Colonge. Eventually we came to what appeared to be our destination, however we could see no way into this edifice. The courtyard gates were locked and what church doors we had access to were also locked. That would have been enough to turn most sane people around and head back to the Christmas Market which was a big draw back in the city center, but wait--we are talking about Peter Paul Ruben here, my hero and I wasn't about to give up so easily.
Soon I saw a man walking past carrying a brief case and with my all but non-existent knowledge of German, I asked him "Pardon me-Rubens-Church?" and pointed. He shook his head yes and with a nod of the head we began following him, which led us around the building next to the church where he proceeded to ring a doorbell. Now I had no idea what we were in for so I repeated my question once again, he only shook his head. "Okay guess we will wait,” I thought. Pretty soon we hear footsteps approaching the door, someone unlocks and opens the door, there standing in front of us is a middle-aged woman looking at us questioningly. The man speaks to her and she waves us inside. Now the three of us are totally confused, here we are in what appears to be the inside of an apartment building on our way to see what has become the allusive Rubens painting. She motions us to follow her which we do, we wind through a kitchen with a door on the other side which upon opening lands us in the sacristy of a Medieval Church.
Wow we have arrived, now where is the painting? The walls are bare, pews are pushed against the back wall, and there’s nothing here. Our hostess speaks very broken English which is way better than my German, so I ask her. "Rubens-painting?” She points to the front wall where a tarp is hanging from the wall and says there. I ask her if we can see it and she says they are renovating, it must stay covered!
Again a road block but I am not giving up. I am on the hunt now and so close to my prize I can smell it. I give it one more shot and with a sad face I say, "Rubens" point to myself and say, "New York."
She smiles a little smile and motions us to follow her. We get close to the covering and miracle of miracles, she lifts the tarp which hides this priceless piece of art work done by Rubens. It is of St. Peter hanging upside down on the cross. We are allowed to get so close to it I am sure we could have touched it if we chose to, but we just stood there in awe. Here we were inside a little known church in this vast city of churches all alone, enjoying the art of a master. It was almost like for a little while it belonged to us for no crowds were there to claim our space. After a bit we thanked the kind lady for giving us this personal look and were on our way.
The three of us were rather quiet going back to the city center, I think it had struck all three of us that we had just experienced a very special moment in our lives.
Check out my artwork at: www.wishfultravelergallery.com