An engrossing, tumultuous history of a Renaissance painting.

PLUNDER

NAPOLEON'S THEFT OF VERONESE'S FEAST

How stolen art enriched the Louvre.

For Napoleon Bonaparte, artworks represented trophies of military success, might, and power. Prominent among the thousands of pieces his army looted from Italy, Prussia, Austria, and Germany, and displayed with bravado in the Louvre, was Paolo Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, “a vast, sublime canvas that in 1797 the French tore from a wall of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.” That Renaissance painting is central to Saltzman’s well-researched, discerning history of art as well as the art of war. As Bonaparte rampaged through Europe, he stipulated that “artistic indemnities go into the terms of peace,” forcing those he conquered to give up paintings and sculpture “as part of the reparations of war.” Even the pope capitulated to Napoleon’s demand for 100 artworks from the sumptuous Vatican holdings. Among the extraordinary pieces that Bonaparte plundered, the Veronese was outstanding: “a banqueting scene with life-sized figures and an illusion of reality so convincing that the feast appeared to be taking place in the open air.” Saltzman recounts the laborious process of removing the painting, then more than 235 years old, wrapping the stiff canvas around cylinders, transporting it for weeks on shipboard, and, finally, restoring it. “To put the canvas up on the wall,” writes the author, restorers “would have to build a new stretcher, patch some 360 holes, and retouch these repairs and any other places that had been abraded or left bare.” The project took three years. After Napoleon’s military defeats and downfall, nations that had been looted negotiated for the return of their art. The Veronese, though, was not among the repatriated works. Though it was removed from the Louvre several times for safekeeping during wars, it hangs still, testimony to Napoleon’s compelling desire to be seen “as an Enlightenment leader, an intellectual, and a friend of the philosophes.”

An engrossing, tumultuous history of a Renaissance painting.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-21903-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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