Part personal tour of Madrid's Prado Museum, part spiritual adventure, Sierra's quasi-novel dips into the mystical secrets and hidden prophecies that supposedly inform the works of such great artists as Raphael, Titian, Bosch, Botticelli, and El Greco.
Javier, a 19-year-old version of the author, tells the tale, which is set in the 1990s. A passionate Prado-goer since his mother took him there when he was a child, he enters a new realm of art appreciation through encounters with a mysterious old man, Doctor Fovel. Recognizing Javier as an imaginative soul, "The Master" fires up his interest in the paintings by revealing startling truths. It's no coincidence, for example, that so many Renaissance paintings, including ones by Raphael and da Vinci, depict the Virgin Mary with two identical looking boys: there were, in fact, two baby Jesuses, one of whom was disguised as John the Baptist to cover up any scandal. Thrilled by such revelations, Javier has his eyes opened wider by the Arcane Canon, or arcanon, consisting of works meant to serve supernatural ends—a passage to the afterlife for the Emperor Charles V. An inspector dubbed Mister X who is after Fovel warns Javier to stay away from the old man—who may be a ghost—and stop looking into his claims. But Javier is too far gone in believing that the purpose of art was "to keep open certain portals to the ‘other world.’ " A bestseller in Spain, where it reinvigorated interest in the Prado (its color reproductions had to have helped), the book is an entertaining romp through art history and the speculations surrounding it.
The writing is aimed more at younger readers than fans of The Da Vinci Code, but Sierra's "fictionalized autobiography" is a lively look at the Prado's great works and the mysteries behind them.