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The Lost Painting: The Quest for a…

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece (2005)

by Jonathan Harr

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,540567,452 (3.84)85
A decaying palazzo on a hilltop near the Adriatic coast, and in the basement, cobwebbed and dusty, an archive unknown to scholars. Here, a young graduate student from Rome makes a discovery that inspires a search for a painting lost for almost two centuries. The artist was Caravaggio, a revolutionary painter beset by personal demons. Four hundred years ago, he drank and brawled in the taverns and streets of Rome, in and out of jail, all the while painting transcendent works. He rose from obscurity to fame and wealth, but success didn't alter his violent temperament. He died young, alone, and under strange circumstances. Caravaggio scholars estimate that between sixty and eighty of his works are in existence today. Many others--no one knows the precise number--have been lost to time. Somewhere, surely, a masterpiece lies forgotten. This quest is a synthesis of history and detective story.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 00
    Headlong by Michael Frayn (wandering_star)
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    Color by Victoria Finlay (fyrefly98)
    fyrefly98: Both fall into the category of "art history that's accessible to readers that know next-to-nothing about art history."

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» See also 85 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this to some extent, though I have serious reservations about Harr's technique.

This is one of those non-fiction books about which some will say, "It reads like a novel!", and it does. However, that is not necessarily a recommendation.

The book is about Caravaggio scholarship, particularly the serendipitous discovery of his* painting, The Taking of Christ. It delves into questions of archival access, conservation techniques and rivalry amongst art historians. All very interesting stuff.

But . . .

Although there is a bibliography, there are NO footnotes or endnotes, NO attributions, and, in a book about art, NO illustrations!

There is also a bit of false advertising about the book. Harr spends most of his time in Italy, with Italian researchers who are investigating another Caravaggio, doing research into various provenances, etc. He seems quite taken with one young graduate student. The difficulty, though, is that the discovery of the painting in Ireland had little to do with these people.

This absence of scholarly technique is something that is becoming all too common in non-fiction these days, and I do *not* approve! Write a strong, compelling narrative, by all means, but give your reader the necessary bibliographic information, too.

*Whether the painting about which Harr writes is the original or a copy is a matter of some dispute, something that Harr does not touch on, although his book was published *after* the controversy arose. I don't know if this was a matter of timing (the issue was apparently first raised in early 2004 and the book was published in late 2005, but that doesn't necessarily mean he had time to incorporate new information) or if he felt it would detract from his story.
  lilithcat | Mar 16, 2019 |
This was a very surprising non-fiction book. It read more like a historical mystery novel than a non-fiction true story about the art and the life of Michelangelo Caravaggio, a 16 century Renaissance painter. Caravaggio had a very short and tumultuous life, but he is famous for his bright and colourful paintings, and for the way he displayed light in his work. He often used self-portraits in his paintings. His paintings are hanging in galleries all over the world, but unfortunately a lot of them have been lost. This book is a book about the treasure hunt involved with trying to find one of his lost paintings. The book starts out with a young Italian graduate student discovering a record of one of his paintings that had been lost for almost two centuries. She discovers the origin of the painting in a dusty old family archive, and she is determined to try to trace where this painting is now. She manages to trace it all the way to Scotland, but then the trail is lost, until a very discerning art restorer discovers what he thinks might be "The Taking of the Christ" in a small Irish Jesuit mission. I am a newbie in the world of art and art restoration, so therefore this whole book was a revelation to me. Johnathan Harr made the story so captivating and so rife with tension and discovery that it held my interest throughout. Caravaggio and his beautiful paintings came alive for me as I read. This is why I adore non-fiction. When you find a book written with such skill and about such a captivating subject, it is a exciting and a revelation. A bygone era came alive for me, and I've been introduced to a whole new world. ( )
  Romonko | Feb 21, 2019 |
The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr, is nonfiction about the search for the long-lost, supposedly "original" The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio.  It was particularly interesting to read about the research done by art history graduate students in various libraries and archives, as well as the meticulous work of art restorers.  Harr writes in a journalistic style, but lists numerous sources in his four-plus page bibliography, and took the trouble to learn Italian so he could conduct most of his research interviews in Rome in that language. ( )
  riofriotex | Feb 10, 2019 |
I raced through this fascinating non-fiction mystery about the search for a lost masterpiece. Harr writes this like a novel, with descriptions of personalities and scenes that bring the book to life in my imagination. I would give it 5 stars, but I reserve those for books that I know will linger in my psyche, popping in at unexpected moments. I don't think this has quite that power. My only complaint is that I would have liked a color picture of the painting in the book, instead of only bits on the cover and grayscale snippets in the chapter headings. ( )
  JanetNoRules | Sep 17, 2018 |
This is the true story of how a hundreds years old masterpiece is searched for and found in an unlikely place. This painting has been added to my bucket list that I hope to visit one day.
( )
  kerchie1 | Jun 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jonathan Harrprimary authorall editionscalculated
Saltzman, AllisonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scott, CampbellNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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