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The Lost Painting
 
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The Lost Painting [Format Kindle]

Jonathan Harr

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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

Extrait

Part 1

THE ENGLISHMAN

The Englishman moves in a slow but deliberate shuffle, knees slightly bent and feet splayed, as he crosses the piazza, heading in the direction of a restaurant named Da Fortunato. The year is 2001. The Englishman is ninety-one years old. He carries a cane, the old-fashioned kind, wooden with a hooked handle, although he does not always use it. The dome of his head, smooth as an eggshell, gleams pale in the bright midday Roman sun. He is dressed in his customary manner-a dark blue double-breasted suit, hand tailored on Savile Row more than thirty years ago, and a freshly starched white shirt with gold cuff links and a gold collar pin. His hearing is still sharp, his eyes clear and unclouded. He wears glasses, but then he has worn glasses ever since he was a child. The current pair are tortoiseshell and sit cockeyed on his face, the left earpiece broken at the joint. He has fashioned a temporary repair with tape. The lenses are smudged with his fingerprints.

Da Fortunato is located on a small street, in the shadow of the Pantheon. There are tables outside, shaded by a canopy of umbrellas, but the Englishman prefers to eat inside. The owner hurries to greet him and addresses him as Sir Denis, using his English honorific. The waiters all call him Signore Mahon. He speaks to them in Italian with easy fluency, although with a distinct Etonian accent.

Sir Denis takes a single glass of red wine with lunch. A waiter recommends that he try the grilled porcini mushrooms with Tuscan olive oil and sea salt, and he agrees, smiling and clapping his hands together. "It's the season!" he says in a high, bright voice to the others at his table, his guests. "They are ever so good now!"

When in Rome he always eats at Da Fortunato, if not constrained by invitations to dine elsewhere. He is a man of regular habits. On his many visits to the city, he has always stayed at the Albergo del Senato, in the same corner room on the third floor, with a window that looks out over the great smoke-grayed marble portico of the Pantheon. Back home in London, he lives in the house in which he was born, a large redbrick Victorian townhouse in the quiet, orderly confines of Cadogan Square, in Belgravia. He was an only child. He has never married, and he has no direct heirs. His lovers-on this subject he is forever discreet-have long since died.

Around the table, the topic of conversation is an artist who lived four hundred years ago, named Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Sir Denis has studied, nose to the canvas, magnifying glass in hand, every known work by the artist. Since the death of his rival and nemesis, the great Italian art scholar Roberto Longhi, Sir Denis has been regarded as the world's foremost authority on Caravaggio. Nowadays, younger scholars who claim the painter as their domain will challenge him on this point or that, as he himself had challenged Longhi many years ago. Even so, he is still paid handsome sums by collectors to render his opinion on the authenticity of disputed works. His verdict can mean a gain or loss of a small fortune for his clients.

To his great regret, Sir Denis tells his luncheon companions, he's never had the chance to own a painting by Caravaggio. For one thing, fewer than eighty authentic Caravaggios-some would argue no more than sixty-are known to exist. Several were destroyed during World War II, and others have simply vanished over the centuries. A genuine Caravaggio rarely comes on the market.

Sir Denis began buying the works of Baroque artists in the 1930s, when the ornate frames commanded higher prices at auction than the paintings themselves. Over the years he has amassed a virtual museum of seicento art in his house at Cadogan Square, seventy-nine masterpieces, works by Guercino, Guido Reni, the Carracci brothers, and Domenichino. He bought his last painting in 1964. By then, prices had begun to rise dramatically. After two centuries of disdain and neglect, the great tide of style had shifted, and before Sir Denis's eyes, the Italian Baroque had come back into fashion.

And no artist of that era has become more fashionable than Caravaggio. Any painting by him, even a small one, would be worth today many times the price of Sir Denis's finest Guercino. "A Caravaggio? Perhaps now as much as forty, fifty million English pounds," he says with a small shrug. "No one can say for certain."

He orders a bowl of wild strawberries for dessert. One of his guests asks about the day, many years ago, when he went in search of a missing Caravaggio. Sir Denis smiles. The episode began, he recalls, with a disagreement with Roberto Longhi, who in 1951 had mounted the first exhibition in Milan of all known works by Caravaggio. Sir Denis, then forty-one years old and already known for his eye, spent several days at the exhibition studying the paintings. Among them was a picture of St. John the Baptist as a young boy, from the Roman collection of the Doria Pamphili family. No one had ever questioned its authenticity. But the more Sir Denis looked at the painting, the more doubtful he became. Later, in the files of the Archivio di Stato in Rome, he came across the trail of another version, one he thought more likely to be the original.

He went looking for it one day in the winter of 1952. Most likely it was morning, although he does not recall this with certainty. He walked from his hotel at a brisk pace-he used to walk briskly, he says-through the narrow, cobbled streets still in morning shadow, past ancient buildings with their umber-colored walls, stained and mottled by centuries of smoke and city grime, the shuttered windows flung open to catch the early sun. He would have worn a woolen overcoat against the damp Roman chill, and a hat, a felt fedora, he believes. He dressed back then as he dresses now-a starched white shirt with a high, old-fashioned collar, a tie, a double-breasted suit-although in those days he carried an umbrella instead of the cane.

His path took him through a maze of streets, many of which, in the years just after the war, still lacked street signs. He had no trouble finding his way. Even then he knew the streets of central Rome as well as he knew London's.

At the Capitoline Hill, he climbed the long stairway up to the piazza designed by Michelangelo. A friend named Carlo Pietrangeli, the director of the Capitoline Gallery, was waiting for him. They greeted each other in the English way, with handshakes. Sir Denis does not like being embraced, and throughout his many sojourns in Italy he has largely managed to avoid the customary greeting of a clasp and a kiss on both cheeks.

Pietrangeli told Sir Denis that he had finally managed to locate the object of his search in, of all places, the office of the mayor of Rome. Before that, the painting had hung for many years in the office of the inspector general of belle arti, in a medieval building on the Via del Portico d'Ottavia, in the Ghetto district of the city. The inspector general had regarded the painting merely as a decorative piece with a nice frame, of no particular value. The original, after all, was at the Doria Pamphili. After the war-Pietrangeli did not know the precise details-someone had moved it to the Palazzo Senatorio, and finally to the mayor's office.

Pietrangeli and Sir Denis crossed the piazza to the Palazzo Senatorio. The mayor's office lay at the end of a series of dark hallways and antechambers, a spacious room with a high ceiling and a small balcony that looked out over the ancient ruins of the Imperial Forum. There was no one in the office. Sir Denis spotted the painting hanging high on a wall.

He remembers standing beneath it, his head canted back, gazing intently up and comparing it in his mind with the one he had seen at Longhi's exhibition, the Doria Pamphili version. From his vantage point, several feet below the painting, it appeared almost identical in size and composition. It depicted a naked boy, perhaps twelve years old, partly reclined, his body in profile, but his face turned to the viewer, a coy smile crossing his mouth. Most art historians thought Caravaggio had stolen the pose from Michelangelo, from a nude in the Sistine Chapel, and had made a ribald, irreverent parody of it.

From where he stood, Sir Denis could not make out the finer details. The surface of the canvas was dark, the image of the boy obscured by layers of dust and grime and yellowed varnish. But he could tell that the quality was superb. Then again, so was the quality of the Doria Pamphili painting.

He turned to Pietrangeli and exclaimed, "For goodness sake, Carlo, we must get a closer look! We must get a ladder."

Waiting for the ladder to arrive, he paced impatiently in front of the painting, never taking his eyes off it. He thought he could discern some subtle differences between it and the Doria version. Here the boy's gaze caught the viewer directly, mockingly, whereas the eyes of the Doria boy seemed slightly averted, the smile distinctly less open. When a workman finally arrived with a ladder, Sir Denis clambered up and studied the canvas with his magnifying glass. The paint surface had the characteristic craquelure, the web of fine capillary-like cracks produced by the drying of the oil that contained the paint pigments. He saw some abrasion in the paint surface, particularly along the borders, where the canvas and the wooden stretcher behind it came into contact. In some areas, the ground, or preparatory layer, had become visible. He noted that the ground was dark reddish brown in color and roughly textured, as if sand had been mixed into it. This was precisely the type of ground that Caravaggio had often used.

He studied t...

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Amazon.com: 4.1 étoiles sur 5  169 commentaires
110 internautes sur 115 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 a captivating read 3 novembre 2005
Par tregatt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
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.
69 internautes sur 74 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Well written and riveting. 13 novembre 2005
Par L.A. in CA - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
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.
53 internautes sur 59 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 At First Annoying and Then Enchanting 7 février 2007
Par Bucherwurm - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
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.
20 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Art history detective work! 24 novembre 2006
Par Charles Slovenski - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
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.
12 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Serendipity is the Handmaiden to Luck and Hard Work 23 août 2006
Par Grey Wolffe - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Jonathan Harr has done a masterful job of taking us along as two art historians follow different clues that lead to the proof that a rare find (the finding of Caravaggio's "Taking of Christ") is the original. Two art students looking to follow the provenance of one of Caravaggio's other paintings, stumble upon a lead as to what had happened to another of his pieces.

The once wealthy Mattei family, had had four Caravaggio's in their possession up until the early 1800's. Since Caravaggio was not considered a great painter (at that time his works were considered pedestrian and vulgar) the family had sold the works to a Scotsman on a "Great Tour". Francesca Cappelletti and a fellow student are able to review the Mattei family archives and find when the painting was originally bought (1601) and when it was then sold (1801). The buyer had taken it back to Scotland and it was given to an auction house in 1921, but there the trail ended. There was no trace of it's sale or disposition.

At the same time in Dublin, Sergio Benedetti, a italian trained restorer at the National Gallery of Ireland, is asked to clean an old painting that has been hanging in a Jesuit house for "ages". When Benedetti first sees the painting he is astonished that it has the style of Caravaggio in the composition and brush strokes. Could it be a copy that was made around the same time as the original? Once he is able to clean and view it close up he is sure that is the original. He is able to follow it back to the auction house, but cannot discover how it got to the owner who had given it to the Jesuits.

Benedetti contacts a well known Caravaggisti, Sir Denis Mahon who recognizes the picture as not only the original but that this is the picture that Cappelletti had traced to the same auction house. Not only is the painting able to be authenticated, but except for the ten years between 1921 and 1931 (when it was given to the Jesuits), it's history can be followed from 1601 (when it was painted) to the present day.

Following the story from both ends, Harr does a wonderful job of describing how the world of art history academia deals with the finding of such paintings and their authentication. He presents all of the protagonists with their genius and foibles. He is especially sensitive to explaining how serendipity is the hand- maiden to luck and hard work.
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