An art curator falls in love with a Renaissance portrait as newcomer McKean, a violin maker, straddles two genres: the newly popular art-history novel and good old-fashioned time-travel SF.
Matt O’Brien, an assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, discovers a small, unsigned portrait of a beautiful young woman in the museum’s storage bins and is immediately enchanted. Meanwhile, the museum installs an authentic Italian studiolo, a small study surrounded by panels painted in elaborate trompe l’oeil during the quattrocento (15th-century) period of high Renaissance art. The funds were provided by a mysterious European physicist named Klein, and as Matt restores his painting of the woman he names Anna, the two men begin a friendship based on conversations about the role of physics in art and music. At the same time, Matt has a series of waking dreams set in the distant past that feel strangely real, while his conscious life becomes a disorienting blur of lost moments and confused memories. Then he has an out-of-body experience inside the studiolo and wakes up in Renaissance Italy, where he falls passionately in love with the real Anna, herself a painter and wife of the dying local duke. (Unfortunately for the reader, Matt’s relationship with the duke’s librarian, Rodrigo, is far livelier.) Again there is much talk of art and philosophy before Matt finds himself time-traveling back to the present and waking up in a hospital bed. His restored painting of Anna, now a certified Leonardo, hangs in the museum, but his friends and colleagues have no memory of the studiolo or a benefactor named Klein. On the hunt for his missing friend in contemporary Prague, Matt instead discovers Klein’s secret and the answer to his own time-traveling dilemma before returning to the quattrocento world and to Anna.
Well-researched but talky forays into intellectual issues raised by art, music, and science, all wrapped around a half-baked plot and silly characters.