The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece

72%

11 Critic Reviews

The Lost Painting revels in such hiccups in history, as well as the politics and passion of art scholarship, and the delicate work of preserving a 400-year-old painting for centuries to come.
-AV Club

Synopsis

An Italian village on a hilltop near the Adriatic coast, a decaying palazzo facing the sea, and in the basement, cobwebbed and dusty, lit by a single bulb, an archive unknown to scholars. Here, a young graduate student from Rome, Francesca Cappelletti, makes a discovery that inspires a search for a work of art of incalculable value, a painting lost for almost two centuries.

The artist was Caravaggio, a master of the Italian Baroque. He was a genius, a revolutionary painter, and a man beset by personal demons. Four hundred years ago, he drank and brawled in the taverns and streets of Rome, moving from one rooming house to another, constantly in and out of jail, all the while painting works of transcendent emotional and visual power. He rose from obscurity to fame and wealth, but success didn’t alter his violent temperament. His rage finally led him to commit murder, forcing him to flee Rome a hunted man. He died young, alone, and under strange circumstances.

Caravaggio scholars estimate that between sixty and eighty of his works are in existence today. Many others–no one knows the precise number–have been lost to time. Somewhere, surely, a masterpiece lies forgotten in a storeroom, or in a small parish church, or hanging above a fireplace, mistaken for a mere copy.

Prizewinning author Jonathan Harr embarks on an spellbinding journey to discover the long-lost painting known as The Taking of Christ–its mysterious fate and the circumstances of its disappearance have captivated Caravaggio devotees for years. After Francesca Cappelletti stumbles across a clue in that dusty archive, she tracks the painting across a continent and hundreds of years of history. But it is not until she meets Sergio Benedetti, an art restorer working in Ireland, that she finally manages to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle.

Told with consummate skill by the writer of the bestselling, award-winning A Civil Action, The Lost Painting is a remarkable synthesis of history and detective story. The fascinating details of Caravaggio’s strange, turbulent career and the astonishing beauty of his work come to life in these pages. Harr’s account is not unlike a Caravaggio painting: vivid, deftly wrought, and enthralling.
". . . 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's previous book, A Civil Action, was made into a John Travolta movie), Harr doesn't plump up hi 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


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Jonathan Harr

See more books from this 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 www.apbspeakers.com  From the Hardcover edition.
 
Published October 25, 2005 by Random House. 288 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Arts & Photography, Travel, Political & Social Sciences, Biographies & Memoirs. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on May 15 2016
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Weeks as Bestseller
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for The Lost Painting
All: 11 | Positive: 8 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Above average
on May 20 2010

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.

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Publishers Weekly

Below average
on Aug 06 2016

...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...his lack of artistic analysis of Caravaggio's paintings may frustrate readers...

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Bruce Handy on Nov 13 2005

Harr's rich and wonderful book, "The Lost Painting," is an account of how, in 1990, the original was found. I'm tempted to quick-key a cliché and say the book reads like a thriller...

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Bruce Handy on Nov 13 2005

It is this empathy for the passions of these scholars and artisans, Harr's respect for their dedication and his keen understanding of their workaday worlds - he clearly spent a lot of time with his subjects - that elevates "The Lost Painting" into something more provocative than just your average missing-Caravaggio narrative.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Jamie Layton on Jan 07 2011

Harr proves his mastery of this genre again. Hopefully, THE LOST PAINTING will be one of those books that passes quickly from reader to reader and, like A CIVIL ACTION, will remain a top seller for years to come.

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AV Club

Good
Reviewed by Scott Tobias on Jan 04 2006

The Lost Painting revels in such hiccups in history, as well as the politics and passion of art scholarship, and the delicate work of preserving a 400-year-old painting for centuries to come.

Read Full Review of The Lost Painting: The Quest ... | See more reviews from AV Club

AV Club

Above average
Reviewed by Scott Tobias on Jan 04 2006

The Lost Painting revels in such hiccups in history, as well as the politics and passion of art scholarship, and the delicate work of preserving a 400-year-old painting for centuries to come.

Read Full Review of The Lost Painting: The Quest ... | See more reviews from AV Club

Entertainment Weekly

Above average
on Nov 02 2005

...art students combing through musty painting inventories isn’t especially gripping, at least compared to the painter’s own life story, which gets glancing treatment.

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Carol Memmott on Nov 21 2005

You need not be an admirer of Caravaggio to get caught up in this wonderfully detailed, tautly told tale of history and discovery. But reader beware: Reading The Lost Painting might make you susceptible to the Caravaggio disease.

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Bestsellersworld

Good
Reviewed by WOODSTOCK on Aug 16 2016

A reader needs to know almost nothing about art to enjoy Harr's relating of the search. The best qualities of suspense literature are here in spades, and the steps followed by researchers and restorers rival the best police procedural and crime scene analysis tales.

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AuthorsDen

Above average
Reviewed by David A. Schwinghammer on Jul 28 2016

For me, the enjoyment of a non-fiction book depends on how much it reminds me of fiction in respect to flow and characterization. With THE LOST PAINTING I had trouble telling the difference.

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Reader Rating for The Lost Painting
78%

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