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The Lost Painting


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About the Author

Jonathan Harr is the author of the national bestseller A Civil Action, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. He is a former staff writer at the New England Monthly and has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. He lives and works in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he has taught nonfiction writing at Smith College. To schedule a speaking engagement, please contact American Program Bureau at


The author of A Civil Action here offers a very different kind of investigation: he tells the story of art student Francesca Cappelletti's efforts to track down a Caravaggio painting missing for 200 years. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Given the relative obscurity of 16th-century the Italian baroque master and all-around creative bad boy Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who after a flare of fame remained relatively unknown from his death until the 1950s, the 1992 discovery of the artist's missing painting The Taking of Christ understandably stirred up a frenzy in academic circles. Harr's skillful and long-awaited follow-up to 1997's A Civil Action provides a finely detailed account of the fuss. While contoured brush strokes and pentimenti repaints have little to do with the toxic waters and legalese Harr dissected in his debut, the author writes comfortably about complex artistic processes and enlivens the potentially tedious details of artistic restoration with his lively and articulate prose. Broken into short, succinct chapters, the narrative unfolds at a brisk pace, skipping quickly from the perspective of 91-year-old Caravaggio scholar Sir Denis Mahon to that of young, enterprising Francesca Cappelletti, a graduate student at the University of Rome researching the disappearance of The Taking of Christ. The mystery ends with Sergio Benedetti, a restorer at the National Gallery of Ireland, who ultimately discovers the lost, grime-covered masterpiece in a house owned by Jesuit priests. But while adept at coordinating dates and analyzing hairline fractures in aged paint, Harr often seems overly concerned with the step-by-step process of tracking down The Taking of the Christ, as if the specific artist who created it were irrelevant. Granted, Harr is not an art historian, but his lack of artistic analysis of Caravaggio's paintings may frustrate readers who wish to know more about the naturalistic Italian's works. (Nov. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Jonathan Harr has gone to the trouble of writing what will probably be a bestseller . . . rich and wonderful . . .in truth, the book reads better than a thriller because, unlike a lot of best-selling nonfiction authors who write in a more or less novelistic vein, Harr doesn't plump up his tale. He almost never foreshadows, doesn't implausibly reconstruct entire conversations and rarely throws in litanies of clearly conjectured or imagined details just for color's sake. . . . If you're a sucker for Rome, and for dusk . . . [you'll] enjoy Harr's more clearly reported details about life in the city, as when--one of my favorite moments in the whole book--Francesca and another young colleague try to calm their nerves before a crucial meeting with a forbidding professor by eating gelato. And who wouldn't in Italy? The pleasures of travelogue here are incidental but not inconsiderable."--The New York Times Book Review

"Jonathan Harr has taken the story of the lost painting, and woven from it a deeply moving narrative about history, art and taste--and about the greed, envy, covetousness and professional jealousy of people who fall prey to obsession. It is as perfect a work of narrative nonfiction as you could ever hope to read."--The Economist "Harr's lean, observant prose provides sensory intimacy without sensory overload. . . . The result is a revealing portrait of a world seldom seen by ordinary folks. . . . At its best, Harr's magnetic storytelling recalls Cappelletti's first encounter with the work of Caravaggio. To her, his paintings seemed 'to pulse with heat and life, capturing a moment in time like a scene glimpsed through a window.'"--The Washington Post Book World "[The Lost Painting] reads like a whodunit, romantic thriller and scholarly monograph rolled into one. . . . A colorful cast of real-life charmers, dreamers and oddballs worthy of a novelist's vivid imagination."--Baltimore Sun "With The Lost Painting . . . [Harr] bestows on it all of his narrative gifts. . . . Cappelletti . . . notes that 'nowadays almost every art historian with an interest in the seicento [17th century] had a Caravaggio article in the works, and museums everywhere wanted to put on a Caravaggio exhibition. . . .' She called it 'the Caravaggio disease.' . . . Readers of The Lost Painting may well find themselves similarly afflicted."--Newsday "Riveting . . . Harr [is] a consummate storyteller. . . . An effortlessly educational and marvelously entertaining mix of art history and scholarly sleuthing."--Booklist "Part detective story, part treasure hunt, this book takes us from dusty basement archives to the ornate galleries of Europe's finest art museums. . . . Harr provides a fascinating glimpse into the insular world of art history and restoration. . . . Art lovers and mystery fans should find plenty to ponder and enjoy."--Kirkus Reviews

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