The Lost Mona Lisa by R A Scotti

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The Lost Mona Lisa by R A Scotti

Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A great story, certainly told with authority, concerning one of the biggest artworld crime mysteries.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Bantam
ISBN: 978-0553818307

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One of the few things I remember from those writers' courses and advice books – and I can hear from here you wished I remembered more of them – was the merit in being aware of anniversaries, especially in your area of expertise, and having the ability to sell articles concerning historical events linked into centenaries, modern comparisons, and so on. Well, here is the book equivalent, and although it's early – it's looking back on the summer of 1911 – this stands as quality enough to deny any latecomers shelf room.

Take one of the most esteemed and popular works of art, La Gioconda, put it randomly and completely insecurely on the walls of the Louvre, guard it with stodgy old soldiers, and leave it to vanish. It probably will, and it did – and in an era, too, when American magnates were prizing classical European works of art, and buying anything, real or forged that they could get their hands on.

Cue a brilliantly told account of the calamity France felt. Heads rolled, as expected, and policemen went into hyperactivity. Was it some lovestruck foreign chap, or a gang of criminal masterminds with the shadowiest links imaginable? Perhaps it was neither – anybody could have been a suspect, and one of the 20th century's most famous men ended up being investigated for it.

The story is sterling, and here throughout this book is all we need and not much more. I did raise both eyebrows at the beginning, as some details Ms Scotti provides seemed far too fictional – descriptions of the stride of people was deemed necessary, before we had any clue what place in the story they might hold. Sweaty hairy chests poke through vests, and you might well wonder on what grounds we're told these things.

But the narrative soon gets more amenable, and with some valuable, concise chapters we learn the entire back story, from the mystery of who Mona Lisa really was and up. It works as art history, where we see the status of the painting grow and grow with its chequered history, leading up to the biggest crowds the Louvre had ever seen as people gazed at the blank space on the wall where it had been. It works as crime history, as a real-life Sherlock Holmes looks into things using those new-fangled fingerprint ideas. It serves as social history as well, as this was one of the first global crime stories for the newspapers, able to reprint the image ad nauseam with new photographic reproduction technology.

It boils down to one of those friendly, engaging non-fiction books, telling a story just as strong and strange as a novel, concerning something we might have heard about but never will have sat down and spent much time learning about. This doesn't take much time to read, and leaves us feeling authoritative about one of the quirks of the last century, and it's obviously worth a strong recommendation.

There's background into da Vinci in The Artist, The Philosopher and The Warrior by Paul Strathern, among others, while if you fancy some light hokum about the painting, you might try The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra.

Buy The Lost Mona Lisa by R A Scotti at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Mona Lisa by R A Scotti at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Lost Mona Lisa by R A Scotti at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lost Mona Lisa by R A Scotti at Amazon.com.


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