MixedThe Wall Street JournalMoser interweaves personal memoir with observations he has gleaned from years of faithful looking at Dutch paintings ... At its best, the book simulates what it must be like to walk around a gallery of Dutch art with Mr. Moser providing the running commentary ... The problem is, it’s reasonable to expect more depth and sustained analysis from a book than from even the most charming and learned companion. Mr. Moser, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his authorized biography of Susan Sontag, flits from topic to topic, artist to artist, never lighting on any one subject long enough to provide a new interpretation or much insight ... Given Mr. Moser’s reluctance to fully commit to biography, one might hope for eloquent visual descriptions. But this is not his strength ... Superficially, Mr. Moser’s book seems to have much to recommend it. If the only tomes on Dutch art were dull ones, this might be a reasonable option for those curious to learn about such a fascinating subject. But the field is an exciting and productive one, with no shortage of compelling writers...all of them presenting far richer ideas than the scattered reflections and self-reflections Mr. Moser has to offer.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMs. Collinsworth’s story takes on the character of a national drama as the portrait becomes part of the messy diplomacy between Poland and Russia ... Among the felicities of Ms. Collinsworth’s book is its cast of appealing and sympathetic women who carved their own identities and public profiles to attain their aims ... In the chapters on the period when the painting disappeared, Ms. Collinsworth focuses on the amorous affairs of her protagonists. Readers may find the details here amusing or irrelevant—or feel impatient for the return of the painting itself. As lively a narrator as the author is, it sometimes feels as if she might be better suited to historical fiction, with her tendency for saucy details that can strain credulity ... the risk of anachronism seems high ... The closer the narrative comes to the present, the less the author embellishes. Perhaps as a result, the final phase of the book, which recounts the Nazi fascination with Lady, is the most compelling ... Readers hoping to find here a revealing account of Leonardo’s mastery as a portrait painter, his artistic technique, or his impact on his contemporaries and later generations will be disappointed. Instead Ms. Collinsworth tells the story of an exceptionally beautiful painting across time. The result is an often engaging, occasionally convoluted, at times gripping tale of princes, dukes and enterprising women, all leading up to the unlikely outcome that the painting should currently reside in Krakow ... Ms. Collinsworth proves herself a skilled portraitist in her own right. But while her book reveals the story of how the painting has been miraculously preserved over the centuries, What the Ermine Saw leaves unanswered the question of why it has mattered so much to so many for so long.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalIn The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo How to Paint, Francesca Fiorani, a professor of art history at the University of Virginia, offers a different interpretation of the relation between Leonardo’s various activities ... Ms. Fiorani offers two great virtues as a guide to Leonardo. Having spent years studying the artist’s writings, she is able to deftly weave her knowledge of them into her text. She also knows her way around a painting, so she can clearly explain each of Leonardo’s ideas through aspects of his art. The heart of her research and contribution lies in the field of optics, fascinating but also potentially arcane ... A professor with a string of scholarly publications behind her, Ms. Fiorani could have written a specialized book for a specialized audience. Instead, she has opened up the topic for the general reader. It will take more than this book to dislodge the fixation on Leonardo as a scientist and inventor. However, a well-researched, lively book by a scholar, expert and art historian goes a long way toward correcting that misconception.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalBen Lewis brings his combined skills to bear in The Last Leonardo, a page-turning tale about the most expensive painting of all time. It’s a story populated by characters straight out of a thriller ... The story Mr. Lewis tells is about what happens when art becomes an asset class.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...Ms. Targoff is adept at keeping the reader informed of the complex geopolitical machinations taking place in Colonna’s life, among them the conflict between Clement VII and Charles V, which pits her family’s loyalties against her husband’s, and the schism in the church wrought by Lutheranism. All of this is introduced not as dry context but as high drama. Working closely with Colonna’s letters and poems, Ms. Targoff gives her the vividness of a fictional protagonist. Too often, she is depicted in modern historical accounts as a bit dull: a chaste and bloodless widow, entombed in her own piety, devoted only to God. In Ms. Targoff’s hands, she emerges as a fully human mix of ambition, desire and shame ... With luck, Ms. Targoff’s erudite and lively biography will spur scholars and publishers to place more of her poems and letters into the hands of readers, to judge her legacy for themselves.
Ingrid Rowland & Noah Charley
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe Collector of Lives focuses on the cultural politics of the 16th century and the vicissitudes of fortune, both Vasari’s and those of the artists he describes … Ms. Rowland and Mr. Charney’s book opens in the Palazzo Vecchio with a tantalizing, Dan Brown -style tale of the hunt for Leonardo’s lost painting depicting the Battle of Anghiari, which some believe to be hidden under one of Vasari’s own frescoes … The authors are more interested in demonstrating Vasari’s continued relevance. This is a case that hardly needs making; Vasari remains on the lips of every Renaissance art historian. Nonetheless, Ms. Rowland and Mr. Charney make frequent reference to contemporary culture and art … Readers curious about the making of Renaissance art, its cast of characters and political intrigue, will find much to relish in these pages. This is a lively, highly readable point of entry into an important and fascinating text.