Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

Not having read Jonathan Harr's previous book, (A Civil Action) I'm unable to comment on which is the better book; what I can say, though, was that I was totally captivated by The Lost Painting.

Many scholars acknowledge that there probably are several missing Caravaggio masterpieces lying about forgotten and neglected. The Lost Painting is about the search for and discover of one such painting, The Taking Of Christ. In 1989, while working on a project, graduate students, Francesca Cappelletti and Laura Testa, come across mention of the sale of The Taking of Christ in the early part of the nineteenth century by the then owner, Guisseppe Mattei to a Scotsman. The information fires up in Francesca a desire to discover what happened to the painting from this point on. She is only partially successful. In the meantime, art restorer, Sergio Benedetti, makes an astonishing discovery when a routine job nets an inexpected find...

Jonathan Harr did, I thought, a wonderful job of vividly conveying the excitement and drive of those involved in the search for (Francesca Cappelletti) and discovery of Caravaggio's lost painting (Sergio Benedetti). And if the author sometimes sounded a little detached and removed from what he was relating in the book, he more than made up for it with his clear and precise descriptions of scenes and characters -- I thought that his portrayal of the slightly gaga Marchesa was priceless; and really enjoyed his brief but telling descriptions of all the characters, both primary and secondary. My sole reservation lay in what I thought was the unnecessary inclusion of Francesca's private romantic life into the book. It struck a slightly jarring note, I thought. Fortunately, this was far and few between. I was also disappointed that neither the author not his editors thought to include picture plates of some of the paintings discussed in the book. It would have been nice to have had easy access to the Doria Pamphili St. John, the Capitoline St. John and esp The Taking of Christ without having to unearth my old art history books, still in boxes. Oh well, at least it inspired me to put up more bookshelves and unpack all those boxes of books! All in all, though, The Lost Painting was a completely riveting and enthralling read, and one I would especially recommend to art lovers everywhere.

No comments: