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Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece Paperback – Apr 3 2012
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Kirkus, July 15, 2010
Charney unsnarls the tangled history of Jan van Eyck’s 15th-century The Ghent Altarpiece (aka The Mystic Lamb), 'the most desired and victimized object of all time.' With a novelist’s sense of structure and tension, the author adds an easy familiarity with the techniques of oil painting and with the intertwining vines of art and political and religious history . A brisk tale of true-life heroism, villainy, artistry and passion.”
Christian Science Monitor, August 30, 2010
"[A]ction-packed . In scrupulous detail, Charney divulges the secrets of the revered painting’s past, and in doing so, gives readers a history lesson on art crime, a still-prospering black market.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 14, 2010
Well-written and thorough, this book reminds us of the influence and fragility of art, our veniality and heroism, and the delights found in both the beautiful and the strange.”
Maclean’s, October 14, 2010
In Charney’s hand, the story of the various heists often reads like a political thriller.”
Catholic Herald, December 13, 2010
Charney’s wonderfully learned and entertaining book tells us about all the indignities this famous image has endured through the centuries but the book also has some much broader point to make about the cultural significance of important paintings Charney tackles some important subjects (the creation of the modern art-stealing industry, our sensible obsession with almost burglar-proof museums) but he wears his learning lightly and the next extraordinary tale is only ever a few pages away. Best of a very good bunch must be the account of the Monuments Men: the highly qualified people who followed in the wake of the liberating armies at the end of World War Two It is good to hear their story and all the other bizarre tales this innovative and elegant book has to tell.”
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Stealing The Mystic Lamb is one of the most readable historical novels I've ever come across, (it helps that two of my favorite topics were already Art History and European history.) I have been studying many of these art pieces personally while an art student in Europe and America, but this book was able to set itself apart for me by really tying together the world and events simultaneously taking place.
Charney has written some of the most enjoyable and certainly most modern descriptions of these priceless art works, a true feat given the volume of descriptions already out there. I also highly recommend this book to anyone looking to jump into Art History, as it is explanative enough for the absolute beginner...but it also thorough and expansive enough for an avid art history student like myself to enjoy.
This book may not be as in depth and detailed towards individual pieces or artists as other art history books by more academic sources (art journals, etc.) but that is not the point of this book. This book is about the history of one piece of art and how that piece's history has influnced not just other artist's but the political, religous, and military superpowers in each century since.
This book is an knockout!
The subject matter was fascinating, I would recommend it to anyone, but what might have been a great book was reduced to be just a pretty good book by the sloppy repetitions.
This reviewer would not question Noah Charney's qualifications as an art historian, but the subject of this particular masterpiece, which is replete with heavy symbolism, displays his poor knowledge of Christianity. He refers to Blessed Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar ("Fra"), as a monk (page 7). He anachronistically refers to an ancient translation of the Blessed Virgin Mary's words at the Annunciation as "politically correct," and displays his arrogance and disrespect toward theology which he does not understand: "Even back then, virgin pregnancy sounded a bit suspect" (page 11). He accepts (without discussion) that the figure wearing the Triple Tiara is God the Father, but this is disputed, many believing the figure to be Christ the King.
On page 47, the author confuses Limbo with Purgatory, and makes hash of the Catholic tradition of praying for the dead. On page 72, he does not even make an attempt to understand the granting of Indulgences.
In discussing (if that be the mot juste of such careless writing) the Allied bombing of Monte Cassino (page 219), he blindly accepts the victors' version of history, where one makes violence upon suspicion, as later with our suspected "Weapons of Mass Destruction."
Moving from religious topics, we have a real howler on page 278, when he writes that the great Lincoln Kirstein "went on to direct the Metropolitan Opera." Indeed, it was probably a mistake to quote Kirstein's writings, since we can see the chasm of quality between Kirstein and Charney, whose efforts read like that of a schoolboy in comparison.
The entire book appears to be the result of a lack of research and comprehension, resulting in a completely superficial and disorganized study of the retable. One suspects that this author needs to read more and write less. In truth, the current Wikipedia article on the Altar-piece is far more mature, reliable, and interesting than this book.