Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

by Michael Bowen & r & The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr & r & He was a violent drunk who liked to insult people and then pick knife fights with them. He was also a genius: He transformed Renaissance sacred art by inserting the riffraff of his day into biblical scenes and then capturing them in mid-dramatic action. He gave us the Gospels by strobe light.


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was a complex character, all right. He created masterpieces; inspired artist-imitators; alienated patrons, rival gang members and the police; and then crawled into a death-spiral that partly caused his paintings to be little valued for nearly three centuries (until a critical reevaluation began in the 1940s).


But you don't get a whole lot of that in The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece (Random House) -- which is both a strength and a weakness of Jonathan Harr's book. Harr parcels out Caravaggio's eventful life only in snippets; readers will search in vain for any reproductions of Caravaggio's St. John and St. Matthew paintings (repeatedly mentioned in the text) or of any photographs of the principal figures in Harr's nonfiction account. Presumably, those omissions will be corrected when the paperback edition this book deserves is released. (At least the dust jacket reproduces the painting that once was lost but now is found.)


Harr has created a detective story set amid the art history and art restoration crowd. There's the elderly Englishman, a world-renowned Caravaggio expert. The Roman grad student, poring over centuries-old inventories in ramshackle Italian villas. The insight, reached by three scholars independently, that Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ (the Judas kiss at nighttime, for centuries presumed lost) had been sold to Scotland, then probably carried off to Ireland. The restorer of paintings, ambitious for a new Caravaggio discovery, dumbfounded by his good luck and then devastated when he nearly damages the painting. Twice.


The entire detailed account should make readers thankful for those who endure hours of painstaking work just so the rest of us can gawk inside museums. Yet in a world of war, disaster and famine, what lessons does such a high-falutin' account convey? Geniuses, especially in their personal lives, aren't always what they're cracked up to be. Beauty, fragile in its gestation and preservation, is therefore all the more precious. Just a painting? People devote their lives to pursuits like authenticating The Taking of Christ. Their efforts enrich us all, and so does Jonathan Harr's celebration of their work.

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Game Changer
  • Game Changer

    Since Condon became mayor, Jan Quintrall has been responsible for some of the biggest changes in the city of Spokane — and some of its biggest controversies
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • In Contempt
  • In Contempt

    A Spokane judge rules that the mental health system has willfully failed to follow evaluation deadlines
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • Never Again
  • Never Again

    Washington state lawmakers push reforms after last July's murder-suicide; plus, Spokane's police ombudsman is leaving
    • Dec 17, 2014
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed
Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular

Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular @ Riverfront Park

Through Jan. 1, 2015

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by n/a

  • Iron Upgrade
  • Iron Upgrade

    The new one is smart and funny and action-packed, and it’s bigger and better and sleeker. And Downey does it again, this time ramping up Stark’s arrogant wisecracking, telling anyone who’ll listen (mostly women) that, via the creation of his powerful Iron Man suit, he’s brought years of uninterrupted peace to the world.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Seeing Gay
  • Seeing Gay

    A festival showing GLBT from all angles
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • Get Out the Vote
  • Get Out the Vote

    With all the uncertainty in the world these days, hot wings and cold beer are two things we can get behind
    • Nov 9, 2009
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Let Us Breathe

    Spokane joins national protests over the failure to indict white officers for killing black civilians
    • Dec 10, 2014
  • Screw Big Cities

    A mid-sized manifesto
    • Dec 3, 2014
  • More »

© 2014 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation