Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Book Review - The Lost Painting

I just finished reading The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr. It is a page turner.

This nonfiction book documents the search for, discovery of, and restoration of the lost Caravaggio painting The Taking of Christ. In this painting, Judas is giving Christ a kiss on the cheek, Roman soldiers are arresting Christ, and John is running away.

The book reads like a detective novel. It interweaves three threads:
  • Caravaggio's biography.
  • Art historians' search for facts that might lead to the lost Caravaggio.
  • The discovery and restoration of The Taking of Christ.
Caravaggio was a talented painter that quickly rose to favor and obtained important commissions. He was also a scoundrel who frequently was in trouble with the law. Although his talent was recognized in his time, his art was considered to be too realistic. In Madonna di Loreto, he showed the dirty feet of pilgrims. In Death of the Virgin, Mary's corpse is bloated. Even worse, Caravaggio used a prostitute as the model for Mary. In Madonna and Child with St. Anne, the Madonna is very well endowed. All of this was considered vulgar and unseemly. After his death, his work quickly passed into oblivion. It was not until the 1950's that his work began to be revered. A list of Caravaggio's paintings with links can be found here.

The book's action spans Italy, Great Britain, and Ireland. It follows two young art historians as they pour through 400 years of records to determine who owned Caravaggio paintings and when. By following the painting's provenance, they hope to locate it. I was amazed and awed to discover that there are Italian families that have written records that go back more than 400 years. The book gives the reader a glimpse into the rarefied and sometimes petty world of art history.

The book also provides a glimpse into art restoration. Think you've had a bad day at your job? Try restoring a lost masterpiece and almost ruining it! Talk about high pressure.

I highly recommend this book.

Simon's Shauma's Power of Art DVD set and companion book has an excellent segment on Caravaggio. Check it out for additional insights!

1 comment:

Africantapestry and Myfrenchkitchen said...

I agree with you.. The lost painting..great read!