Anyone who's ever scoured a yard sale for that undiscovered antique will savor this engrossing story of a young art student on the trail of a missing 17th-century masterpiece by the Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610).
Part detective story, part treasure hunt, this book takes us from dusty basement archives to the ornate galleries of Europe's finest art museums. The prize is a missing Caravaggio masterpiece called The Taking of Christ, depicting Judas' betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. Many copies have surfaced over the centuries, but the original was presumed lost, possibly destroyed. The story follows a young Italian art student, Francesca Cappelletti, who uncovers unknown documents about the painting while researching the Italian Baroque artist. Poring over centuries-old archives in the basement of a crumbling Italian seaside palazzo, she learns that the The Taking of Christ was mistakenly ascribed to a German artist when it was purchased by a wealthy Scotsman in the early 1800s. Francesca follows the trail to Edinburgh, where she hits a dead end until contacted by a bumptious Italian art restorer working in Dublin who may have stumbled upon the missing masterpiece. Harr provides a fascinating glimpse into the insular world of art history and art restoration. He also delivers an entertaining cast of characters, from the diligent Francesca to the aristocratic Caravaggio scholar Sir Denis Mahon to the combustible art historian Giampaolo Correale, who first sets Francesca on her Caravaggio quest.
The story would have benefited from more insight into Caravaggio the artist—there's not quite enough here to help the uninformed appreciate the beauty of his work. Still, art lovers and mystery fans should find plenty to ponder and enjoy. (Francine Prose’s brief, equally fine biography of the artist—Caravaggio—will be published in October.)