Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists, Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg

Just before George R.R. Martin thoroughly hijacked my brain, I had the pleasure of learning more about the world of art theft. The sharp focus here is Dutch master, and frequent bandit target, Rembrandt van Rijn. His 1632 portrait of the canon of Utrecht has the dubious distinction of being the world's most stolen painting.

It's a great read. Amore and Mashberg fully contextualize each crime, dispelling the common assumption about how these affairs unfold and who is responsible. Rarely is it the obscenely wealthy collector amassing a team of highly-skilled thieves to kidnap a choice piece. Nope. Far more frequently, it's a career criminal who spots an institutional weakness and wants to cut a painting off a wall. Luckily for recovery efforts, most of these masterminds have trouble turning their paintings into cash and must jettison their prizes instead.

The exhaustive research is straight-forwardly written, stepping readers through heists episodically, with museum personnel and thieves providing the detail. The historical background of each picked piece is discussed as well as its significance in the oeuvre of Rembrandt and accorded value. It's an entertaining art history/true crime lesson with one eye fixed on recovery efforts. By book's end, you hope a breakthrough will be forthcoming in the still-unsolved theft of three Rembrandts from the Gardner Museum in 1990, where Amore has been head of security since 2005. This book is clearly a labor of love towards that elusive end. 

Highly recommended.

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