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Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece Paperback – Apr 3 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (April 3 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610390962
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610390965
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.3 x 22.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #344,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


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.”


About the Author

Noah Charney is the author of the international bestselling novel The Art Thief and is the founding director of The Association for Research into Crimes against Art, an international nonprofit think tank. Currently professor of art history at the American University of Rome, he lives in Italy with his wife.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book will enlighten art enthusiasts with details about the famous Mystic Lamb altarpiece. The detailed descriptions of the symbols painted might be art overload for some but overall it is a fascinating account of the journey from the installation in the church to the many thefts over the years. By the time you reach the World War II drama of the Nazis stealing art it almost reads like a different book. You will come away with a greater appreciation for both the painted work and the history that is embedded in this old world masterpiece.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9c7d021c) out of 5 stars 35 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c7e9d98) out of 5 stars Fascinating! For both scholar and beginner of Art History Oct. 15 2010
By T. Coner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I can't recommended this book enough to those who love to learn more about how Art history doesn't just comment on the history of the world around it but an active and undeniable provocateur at the base of it.

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!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c7e9dec) out of 5 stars Fine material, porly written July 10 2011
By foxglove - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book was in many ways a delight, but the author or his editor permitted countless repetitions that made me wonder: Was this book was put together from a series of articles written for a magazine that were published over several months?

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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c7ea0e4) out of 5 stars Interesting and Intriguing Read Sept. 29 2010
By Ben Davies - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The chapters have a wonderful dramatic arc and I found the story of how the painting was repeatedly stolen very easy to read. It is an utterly convincing book with a precise regard for detail, and yet without being too bogged down. Who would have thought that a single painting could contain so much and have such a fascinating history. I loved the chapter called 'Thieves in the Cathedral'. I got a very visual sense - as in a film. Would highly recommend this!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c7ea600) out of 5 stars Excellent and unusual history lesson Aug. 12 2012
By northkona - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found out about this book through my interest in artworks lost, stolen, and looted during WWII. Contrary to the negative reviews, I thought the author did a great job telling the story. I did read the WWII part of the book first, but then I read the whole thing from the beginning and enjoyed it immensely. This book fits in well with The Rape of Europa, both DVD and book, if you're drawn to the broader topic of plundered art. There's a lot of solid research here, some of it quite amazing, and the writer's style is enjoyable to read, not overly academic. I really liked the book, and will soon check online about the 2010 cleaning funded by the Getty Trust to see if the dangling mystery of the one panel is finally resolved.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c7e9eac) out of 5 stars Ecce Agnus Dei Jan. 13 2014
By Brian Morgan - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book, written by a very prolific writer, concerns one of the world's most fascinating examples of Sacred Art, the Ghent Altar-piece, which dates from the early 15th century.

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.