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Jonathan Harr – The Lost Painting

November 20, 2007

113. The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr (2005)

Read by Campbell Scott
Length: 6h 22m (320 pages)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 17 November 2007
Finished: 20 November 2007

Summary: While researching the history of another of Caravaggio’s paintings, graduate students Francesca Cappelletti and Laura Testa uncover information on the commission and eventual sale of another work, The Taking of Christ, which had been lost since the 1600s, although numerous copies existed. Following the trail of records leads Francesca to an auction house in Edinburgh in the 1920s, where the painting was catalogued, but no records exist of if or to whom it was sold. Meanwhile, Sergio Benedetti, an art restoration expert at the National Gallery of Ireland, discovered a painting hanging in the Dublin residence of the Jesuits, that he believed may be the lost Caravaggio.

Review: This book was pretty far afield for me, but it did an excellent job of catering to exactly what I wanted. I don’t read much non-fiction in general, and I know next to nothing about art or theory or painting techniques, but I do find art history fascinating – stories of the objects themselves and how and why they were created, owned, and used. To quote from the closing of the book, “every painting has its own vicissitudes,” and that individual history is what interests me. This book delivered admirably on that score, with copious details about the history of The Taking of Christ interwoven with the stories of how that information was ferreted out of archives and libraries, details about the life of Caravaggio, some fascinating information on the process of art restoration, and a glimpse into the lives of people who have caught “the Caravaggio disease”. The style, as others have noted, is journalistic, with short, punchy, to-the-point sentences that can come off as rather abrupt to someone who reads primarily fiction, but I didn’t think it detracted from the story. You’re not going to be happy if you go into this expecting something like The DaVinci Code – it’s narrative non-fiction, but it’s not really a mystery or a thrill-a-minute story. I think people who enjoyed books like Girl With a Pearl Earring – and who generally enjoy the stories behind the art more than the art itself – would enjoy this one as well. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: An interesting and compelling piece of non-fiction ideal for a reader who’s interested in but not particularly knowledgeable about art and art history.

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