Friday, November 21, 2014
BOTTICELLI'S BASTARD by STEVEN MAITLAND-LEWIS
This is a fun read with more than a little history in it. If the word history puts you off, I hasten to explain that this book is never ever boring. I'm bursting to tell you what makes it so much fun but that would spoil the read for you, so mum's the word.
The main character in the story is Giovanni Fabrizzi, expert restorer of old paintings. He learned the skill from his father and in turn passed it on to his son. The family is of course Italian, but Giovanni is based in London while his son runs the Italian studio. For decades Giovanni had a beloved studio in an old building in Soho Square but had been forced by his clients' insistence to move into a large, impersonal, secure building where he has to carry a paper that lists all the codes to gain access to his own studio. Even there, he has to use codes to open up the two storerooms, one housing his current work and the other for other paintings.
In search of a painting that would be an appropriate wedding gift for a client to give his son, Giovanni finds a portrait in a crate that his father had shipped to him some time ago. The subject turns out to be Count Marco Lorenzo Pietro de Medici. Yes, those Medici's. As you can see by the cover, the young man was handsome and proud, perhaps arrogant. There is a claim that this unsigned portrait was actually painted by Botticelli.
Giovanni's life has been in turmoil ever since his wife died. She was his true soul-mate and he mourns her every day although she has been gone for several years, and nearly a year ago he had married a much younger, beautiful woman. His marriage is suffering because of his sadness and he is unable to complete a restoration he has promised by a certain date.
He becomes obsessed with learning the true origin of the portrait. As he seeks out information we learn about the theft of European art by the Nazi's and how many of the paintings they seized were never returned to the Jewish families who owned them. We learn the strange story of this particular painting and of its various owners through the years. But since this is mostly told as stories in conversation, it's never dry reading. I felt like I was listening to a wonderful storyteller.
Source: IRead Tours