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When John Snare, a 19th-century provincial bookseller, traveled to a liquidation auction, he stumbled on a vivid portrait of King Charles I that defied any explanation. The Charles of the painting was young - too young to be king - and yet also too young to be painted by the Flemish painter to which the work was attributed. Snare had found something incredible - but what?
His research brought him to Diego Velázquez, whose long-lost portrait of Prince Charles has eluded art experts for generations. Velázquez (1599-1660) was the official painter of the Madrid court during the time the Spanish Empire teetered on the edge of collapse. When Prince Charles of England - a man wealthy enough to help turn Spain's fortunes - ventured to the court to propose a marriage with a Spanish princess, he allowed just a few hours to sit for his portrait. Snare believed only Velázquez could have met this challenge. But in making his theory public, Snare was ostracized, victim to aristocrats and critics who accused him of fraud, and forced to choose, like Velázquez himself, between art and family.
A thrilling investigation into the complex meaning of authenticity and the unshakable determination that drives both artists and collectors of their work, The Vanishing Velázquez travels from extravagant Spanish courts in the 1700s to the gritty courtrooms and auction houses of 19th-century London and New York. But it is above all a tale of mystery and detection, of tragic mishaps and mistaken identities, of class, politics, snobbery, crime, and almost farcical accident. It is a magnificently crafted pause resister, a testimony to how and why great works of art can affect us to the point of obsession.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Ron on 07-02-16
A fascinating study of art history
I have to admit that, at first, I was only a little intrigued by this book. I also found the narrators accent somewhat difficult in the beginning. But before long I found myself deeply drawn into the mystery, the cultural surroundings of the artist and the collector, the beautiful, almost poetic, discussions of the artists style, the historical perspective, the writing, and the unique lilt of the narrators speech pattern which, as I progressed through the book I found I enjoyed more and more. This book delves into many layers of obsessions and art, how those intertwine, and have been perceived across time. I found the writing illuminating, passionate, and extremely well researched, as well as thought provoking, and lovingly crafted. Of course seeing anything as a masterpiece is purely in the eye of the beholder, and frankly, I am still coming to grips with my personal felling a about Velazquez, but I have a new perspective on him and his works, thanks to Laura Cumming and Siobhan Redmond, who have very masterfully brought him and this enchanting story to my attention.
The story of Mr. Snare and his obsession with this one painting is most skillfully presented, well highlighting the enormous difficulty in really defining such a seemingly illusory yet real character.
I enjoyed this book a lot.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Julia Felix on 05-22-17
Interesting but not very straightforward
I was intrigued by the description of this book, and was caught off guard when, within the first couple of hours, it seemed the Velasquez had been found and proven! I thought to myself, "what is she going to talk about for another 6 hours?" Of course, to my delight it turned out to be more complicated than just that, but I still ended up finishing this book feeling a little confused.
While the author explains in great detail the life and struggles of John Snair, she also goes on long tangents describing and interpreting other works, not just by Velasquez, but other painters. It is somewhat relevant to be story in the sense of understanding what made this painting appear to be a Velasquez, and what made it stand out from other works, but I often found myself not remembering what was going on in John Snair's story by the time she was done with her romanticisms, and by the end of the book I realized I have no idea what actually ended up happening with the painting (though there was an exciting story about Las Meninas being saved from a fire towards the end).
So I'm ultimately a little disappointed, as I don't really think I want to listen to the last 4 hours over again to figure out what I feel should have been a little more central and obvious. Still, lots of interesting facts, especially if you've taken some art history classes in your lifetime.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful