Stealing the Mystic Lamb
The True Story of the World’s most coveted masterpiece
Public Affairs Books 2010 336 pages
Despite my college grades on the subject, I loved art history. While I remember most of the history of the Northern Rennaissance art movement, I didn’t know about the wholesale theivery of the great paintings of this period in Europe during World Wars I and II. Even as early as the 1800s, Napoleon went on his own art spree through the Continent, setting the precedent of spoils of war, finders, keepers. The masterpiece, called The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan van Eyck is on the short list of great paintings. It illustrates the shift of the Middle Ages and the Rennaissance, from the use of tempera to oils. Since 1423 this 12 panel painting has been looted in three separate wars, kidnapped, dismembered, forged and stolen 13 different times.
Many of the high-profile thefts are mentioned in detail. The most recent occurring during WWII. It reads like a movie script: intrigue, injustice and Nazis.
With the timeline of van Eyck’s creation of the painting, it did bring back historical context of the era tin a way that even a non-art history reader could enjoy.