Saturday, August 9, 2014

Botticelli's Bastard by Stephen Maitland Lewis



Giovanni comes from an ancestry of art restorers. His son is also following in his footsteps - he is well established, his reputation is pristine but his personal life is not doing so good. His first wife's death has affected him very badly and his second wife Arabella does not enjoy playing second fiddle to the memory of his dead wife. 

Giovanni at work is also haunted by a painting - a portrait of a man which draws him in. The painting is unsigned and though Giovanni does know that it could be from the 16th century the provenance of the painting is at doubt because of the lack of signature. The day the painting begins to speak to him or rather the Count in the painting starts to talk to him of both the Count's history and also of the turbulent times since then, that Giovanni's entire life changes. The painting also witnesses an exchange of intimacies between Arabella and her lover and tells this to Giovanni with disastrous results!

On learning the earlier ownership of the painting and how it originally belonged to a Jewish family who were sent to Auschwitz, Giovanni is determined to restore the painting to its original owners. He tracks down the only surviving member of the family who now lives in New York but who refuses to have anything to do with the painting. The Count himself lets his wishes be known as to where he wants his portrait hung and this is what eventually takes place.

The history of the Nazi occupation of France and particularly Paris and the systematic looting of arts and treasures to boost Hitler's coffers and whilst doing that also boosting the wealth of all his sycophants is detailed in the story. 

The fact that the painting talks to Giovanni is looked on with skepticism by the family who wonder whether he needs therapy badly. Giovanni himself realises that it sounds so odd that no one would ever believe him but he does believe in the painting and its origins. Having it tested by a renowned facility and getting the news that it is a original Botticelli also sends triggers through the art world who now vie with each other to obtain the painting. Despite the huge monetary gains to be obtained, as per the Count's wish, Giovanni donates the painting to a museum.

The story is not something I expected. I did expect paintings and the art world but this little bit of fantasy creeping in added such a whimsical touch which was lovely.

The book came to me through Netgalley courtesy of  Glyd Evans Press.

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