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The Lost Painting Paperback – November 7, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

In 1992 a young art student uncovered a clue in an obscure Italian archive that led to the discovery of Caravaggio's original The Taking of the Christ, a painting that had been presumed lost for over 200 years. How this clue--a single entry in an old listing of family possessions--led to a residence in Ireland and the subsequent restoration of this Italian Baroque masterpiece is the subject of this brisk and enthralling detective story. The Lost Painting reads more like a historical novel than art history, as Harr smoothly weaves several narratives together to bring the story alive. Though he does not provide an in-depth examination of the painting itself--the book is not aimed specifically at art experts--Harr does include many details for lay readers about restoration, the various methods used to track artwork through history, how originals are distinguished from copies, and an inside view of the art world, past and present. He also discusses various forensic approaches, including X ray, infrared reflectography, chemical analysis of the paints and canvas, and other modern techniques. But most of the book is focused on more primitive methods, including dogged research through dusty archives and meticulous attention to detail.

This entertaining book boasts an engaging cast of characters, all of whom are inflicted with the "Caravaggio disease," including some of the foremost Caravaggio scholars in the world, persistent students, obsessive restorers, and most of all, the artist himself. Mercurial, supremely gifted, and prone to violence, Caravaggio lived like an outlaw and a pauper most of his troubled life. Yet even when he attained wealth and fame--and briefly, respectability--he was still hounded by the law (for murder) and numerous vengeful enemies. Harr does an admirable job of bringing the man alive in these pages while keeping his long-lost painting at the center of the action. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Given the relative obscurity of 16th-century the Italian baroque master and all-around creative bad boy Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who after a flare of fame remained relatively unknown from his death until the 1950s, the 1992 discovery of the artist's missing painting The Taking of Christ understandably stirred up a frenzy in academic circles. Harr's skillful and long-awaited follow-up to 1997's A Civil Action provides a finely detailed account of the fuss. While contoured brush strokes and pentimenti repaints have little to do with the toxic waters and legalese Harr dissected in his debut, the author writes comfortably about complex artistic processes and enlivens the potentially tedious details of artistic restoration with his lively and articulate prose. Broken into short, succinct chapters, the narrative unfolds at a brisk pace, skipping quickly from the perspective of 91-year-old Caravaggio scholar Sir Denis Mahon to that of young, enterprising Francesca Cappelletti, a graduate student at the University of Rome researching the disappearance of The Taking of Christ. The mystery ends with Sergio Benedetti, a restorer at the National Gallery of Ireland, who ultimately discovers the lost, grime-covered masterpiece in a house owned by Jesuit priests. But while adept at coordinating dates and analyzing hairline fractures in aged paint, Harr often seems overly concerned with the step-by-step process of tracking down The Taking of the Christ, as if the specific artist who created it were irrelevant. Granted, Harr is not an art historian, but his lack of artistic analysis of Caravaggio's paintings may frustrate readers who wish to know more about the naturalistic Italian's works. (Nov. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375759867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375759864
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (176 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

112 of 117 people found the following review helpful By tregatt on November 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Amazon customer on November 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't put this book down! As usual, the truth reads better than fiction.

Over the years, many people representing many different interests searched for the whereabouts of a missing masterpiece by the great Caravaggio. All met with dead ends. In this fast paced book, the author introduces us to those in the art world who were involved in the search, and he allows us to see how each contributes to the final outcome. We are there as each new clue is discovered.

Caravaggio was evidently a pretty wild character who was no stranger to the police. How such a man was able to create paintings of such light and beauty is incredible. Learning more about the artist is one of the highlights of the book.

I don't want to spoil the story by giving away any details. Reading first-hand how things slowly evolve is part of the fun. I do highly recommend it, though, to anyone interested in Italian art, in art history, or to anyone looking for a good, intelligent mystery. A fascinating story.
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57 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on February 6, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really love history, and especially art history. A book about the finding of the long lost Caravaggio painting "The Taking of Christ" got me really excited. Then I started reading it. Evidently authors like Mr. Harr feel that most people won't pick up a book that is not fiction so he writes in a way that gives new meaning to the term "narrative history". At first he seems to want to write a novel. We go riding through the mountains seeing the scenery, experiencing the ocean breeze, pulling over to the side to let faster vehicles pass us by. Our brakes aren't too good, but now the road gets wider....etc. I am getting very impatient with this book about this time. This is novelistic fill that I am reading.

But then half way through the book a new day dawns. We no longer have to sit through a dinner where an art historian has ordered "an antipasto of mixed seafood marinated in olive oil and lemon juice followed by medallion of veal with lemon and capers and a plate of spinach repassato, cooked with garlic and oil" (actual quote). We now enter a rather fascinating world of art restoration spiced with biographical details of Caravaggio's life. Is the found painting really Caravaggio's? How do we determine if it is? The book now hits its stride and all the early fluff is forgiven. On balance it is a commendable book of art detection and restoration that is devoid of academic stodginess. Lots of fun once you get past the ocean breezes.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Charles Slovenski on November 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Like "six degrees of separation" everything is somehow connected. How my brother -- who once asked me to explain THE TAKING OF CHRIST during a visit to the National Gallery in Dublin -- came to be reading this book is one of the mysteries of being a sibling. (His curiosity always surprises me.) In any case, I swiped it away from him during a Xmas visit before I even realized it was the same painting we had seen in Dublin. What could be more fun than to read about the intense and passionate discovery of a lost Caravaggio painting, made by two young Italian art students just starting out?! It is engagingly written and reads like a detective novel, with many fulsome descriptions of all the players such as the difficult Italian woman who holds the old sales books for the original painting, the elderly art historian who guides the young Francesca on her painstaking discovery, the priests in whose home the painting is discovered, the patroness who bequeathed it to them, and above all the restorer who identifies THE TAKING OF CHRIST and is overwhelmed by its power, both as an art discovery and as a gem of prestige. There's enough information about the painter and man Caravaggio and the world in which he worked and played to entice even the least art history oriented reader.
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