The Vanishing Velazquez: A 19th Century Bookseller's Obsession with a Lost Masterpiece (Paperback)

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The Vanishing Velazquez is a poetic and scholarly treasure hunt. Laura Cumming reconstructs the story of a bookseller and his quest to prove the existence of a long lost Velazquez portrait of Charles I. John Snare, who worked as a bookseller and printer before claiming to have discovered a Velazquez painting at an estate sale (at which point his life dramatically changed direction), intrigued Cumming from the moment she heard of him. Cumming’s own quest takes her from Spain, to England, and finally to America in a centuries-long chase for the elusive combination of paint and canvas that turns lives upside down. Cumming deftly balances the combination of biography and vivid artistic description; although Snare’s Velazquez is elusive, Cumming gives us the next best thing. Interspersing chapters on the dramatic Snare case with illuminating descriptions of Velazquez’s art and world, Cumming captures the feeling of standing before a great work of art—and it’s this feeling that bonds Cumming to John Snare (and us to her story).

— Ruby


"As compelling and entertaining as a detective novel" (The Economist), the incredible true story--part art history and part mystery--of a Velazquez portrait that went missing and the obsessed nineteenth-century bookseller determined to prove he had found it.

When John Snare, a nineteenth century provincial bookseller, traveled to a liquidation auction, he found a vivid portrait of King Charles I that defied any explanation. The Charles of the painting was young--too young to be king--and yet also too young to be painted by the Flemish painter to whom the piece was attributed. Snare had found something incredible--but what?

His research brought him to Diego Velazquez, whose long-lost portrait of Prince Charles has eluded art experts for generations. Velazquez (1599-1660) was the official painter of the Madrid court, during the time the Spanish Empire teetered on the edge of collapse. When Prince Charles of England--a man wealthy enough to help turn Spain's fortunes--proposed a marriage with a Spanish princess, he allowed just a few hours to sit for his portrait, and Snare believed only Velazquez could have been the artist of choice. But in making his theory public, Snare was ostracized and forced to choose, like Velazquez himself, between art and family.

A thrilling investigation into the complex meaning of authenticity and the unshakable determination that drives both artists and collectors of their work, The Vanishing Velazquez is a "brilliant" (The Atlantic) tale of mystery and detection, of tragic mishaps and mistaken identities, of class, politics, snobbery, crime, and almost farcical accident that reveals how one historic masterpiece was crafted and lost, and how far one man would go to redeem it. Laura Cumming's book is "sumptuous...A gleaming work of someone at the peak of her craft" (The New York Times).
Product Details
ISBN: 9781476762180
ISBN-10: 147676218X
Publisher: Scribner Book Company
Publication Date: November 8th, 2016
Pages: 320
Language: English