BOTTICELLI'S BASTARD was not exactly what I was expecting.
I thought it would be about a man who finds a painting and
has to prove that it's an authentic masterpiece through
research. And it is...but with a little twist.
Stephen Maitland-Lewis tells the story of Giovanni
Fabrizzi, a renowned art restorer who is reputed to be
intuitive about paintings and what they need to be at their
best. But this time, it goes beyond his looking at a
painting and feeling a connection. This time when he says
that a painting "speaks to him," it is actually talking to
him! From the moment in his vault when he hears a voice
saying, "Let me out. I need air," his life is drastically
Count Marco Lorenzo Pietro de Medici (the subject of the
painting) insists that he is the unsigned work of
Botticelli, something that seems impossible to prove.
Giovanni questions his own sanity, obviously. Or could this
really be the miracle that it seems? As the painting
recounts its history and the way it made its way into
Giovanni's possession, Giovanni is forced to face some
questions about his life and possibly do a restoration of
his own values and goals.
Maitland-Lewis is a gifted historian who takes us through a
detailed history of the painting and through the subsequent
investigation in the same manner that his protagonist
restores a painting—meticulously and painstakingly.
Throughout the tale are lessons in art history, art
restoration, and peeks into history including the role that
Nazi Germany played in stealing and destroying art
treasures in World War II. He somehow manages to convey
all this information while convincing us to suspend our
disbelief about a painting's ability to speak. I found
myself caring about what a painting had to say about its
placement in the world of art.
BOTTICELLI'S BASTARD defies classification. A strong case
can be made for the genre of historical fiction, but there
are also elements of mystery and magical realism. Readers
who love history and art will enjoy this offering by
Art restorer Giovanni Fabrizzi is haunted by an unsigned
renaissance portrait. Obsessed to learn the truth of its
origin, he becomes increasingly convinced the painting could
be the work of one of history's greatest artists, which if
true, would catapult its value to the stratosphere. But in
learning of the painting's past, he is faced with a dilemma.
He believes the portrait was stolen during the greatest art
heist in history -- the Nazi plunder of European artwork. If
true and a surviving relative of the painting's rightful
owner were still alive, Giovanni, in all good conscience,
would have to give up the potential masterpiece.
His obsession with the portrait puts a strain on his new
marriage, and his son thinks his father has lost his mind
for believing an unremarkable, unsigned painting could be
worth anyone's attention. Regardless, Giovanni persists in
his quest of discovery and exposes far more truth than he
ever wanted to know.