Fans of historical fiction will enjoy The Night Portrait. The book is set during WWII and also in the late 15th century in Renaissance Italy. It starts with Leonard da Vinci who is preparing to leave Florence and pursue opportunities in the Duchy of Milan. Da Vinci’s head is filled with ideas for great machinery and inventions yet he knows it is his paintings that will sustain him. He goes to work for Ludovico Sforza, the Regent of Milan, who has taken young and beautiful Cecilia Gallerani as his mistress. He commissions a portrait of the sixteen year old. While trying to add an interesting element to the portrait, Da Vinci decides to paint Cecilia holding an ermine.
When the storyline takes us to Munich in 1939, the now famous masterpiece Lady with an Ermine, along with two other treasures owned by a Polish family, is stolen by the Nazis. A massive looting of artwork is underway and Edith Becker, an art conservator, is instructed to help identify the best pieces for Hitler and the high-ranking SS officers. She especially loves Lady with an Ermine and hates her role in this despicable effort. In 1945, we meet Dominic Bonelli, an American GI who is part of the group entitled the “Monuments Men,” charged with rescuing the stolen art and artifacts and returning them to their rightful owners.
The Night Portrait is a work of fiction, yet the story of the painting by Leonard da Vinci and its theft during WWII is true. Author Laura Morelli does an excellent job moving from one period to the next. The opulence of the Renaissance period was well juxtaposed with the death and destruction during WWII. This is not your typical WWII book as we get to experience the creation of an incredible masterpiece painted over 500 years ago. And how only 75 years ago, centuries of great art, including Lady with an Ermine, were almost lost forever.
A mark of a good book is the desire to keep learning more about what you have just read. If you read and enjoy The Night Portrait, I recommend watching:
-The Monuments Men, 2014 film starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, now streaming online.
I would like to thank NetGalley, HarperCollins UK, One More Chapter and the author for the opportunity to read this captivating book in advance of its release.
Rated 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: September 8, 2020.
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