USA Noah Charney The Art Thief: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781416550303

The Art Thief: A Novel

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9781416550303: The Art Thief: A Novel

Rome: In the small Baroque church of Santa Giuliana, a magnificent Caravaggio altarpiece disappears without a trace in the middle of the night. Paris: In the basement vault of the Malevich Society, curator Genevieve Delacloche is shocked to discover the disappearance of the Society's great treasure, White-on-White by Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich. London: At the National Gallery of Modern Art, the museum's newest acquisition is stolen just hours after it was purchased for 6.3 million pounds.
While three separate thefts are simultaneously investigated in three separate cities, the apparently unrelated crimes have more in common than anyone imagines. In each city, the authorities enlist the help of a renowned art investigator, police inspectors, and Scotland Yard. A trail of bizarre clues and intellectual puzzles reveals forgeries, over-paintings, thefts, and double-crosses leading ever deeper into a baffling conspiracy.
Twenty-seven year-old American Noah Charney holds degrees in art history from the Courtauld Institute and Cambridge University, and he has created the academic field of the history of art theft. He is the founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), the first international think tank on art crime whose board of trustees includes the respective art squad heads of the FBI, Carabinieri, and Scotland Yard, as well as renowned museum, art world, and criminology specialists.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Noah Charney, twenty-seven years old, holds degrees in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and Cambridge University. He is the founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), the first international think tank on art crime. He divides his time between New Haven, Connecticut; Cambridge, England; and Rome, Italy.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

It was almost as if she were waiting, hanging there, in the painted darkness.

The small Baroque church of Santa Giuliana in Trastevere huddled in a corner of the warm Roman night. The streets were blue and motionless, illuminated only by the hushed light of a streetlamp from the square nearby.

Then there was a sound. Inside the church.

It was the faintest scream of metal on metal, barely perceptible in daylight, but now like a shriek of white against black. Then it stopped. The sound had been only momentary, but it echoed.

From out of the belly of the sealed church, a bird rose. A pigeon fluttered frantically along the shadowy chapel walls and swooped through the vaults and down the transept, carving a path blindly through the inky cavernous interior.

Then the alarm went off.

Father Amoroso woke with a start. Sweat clung to his receded hairline.

He looked at his bedside clock. Three fifteen. Night still clung outside his bedroom window. But the ringing in his ear would not stop. Then he noticed that it was not only in his ear.

He threw a robe over his nightshirt and slipped on his sandals. In a moment he was down the stairs, and he ran the few paces across the square to Santa Giuliana in Trastevere, which squatted, like an armadillo, he had once thought, but now vibrated with sound.

Father Amoroso fumbled with his keys and finally pulled open the ancient door, swollen in the humidity. He turned to the anachronism just inside, switching off the alarm. He looked around for a moment. Then he picked up the telephone.

"Scusi, signore. I'm here, yes...I don't know. Probably a malfunction with the alarm system, but I...just a moment..."

Father Amoroso put the police on hold as he surveyed the interior. Nothing moved. The darkness sat politely around the edges of the church and the moonlight on the nave cast shadows through the pews. He took a step forward, then thought better of it. He turned on the lights.

The Baroque hulk slowly sprang to life. Spotlights on its various alcoves and treasures illuminated the empty spaces vicariously. Father Amoroso stepped forward into the center of the nave and scanned. There was the chapel of Santa Giuliana, the Domenichino painting of Santa Giuliana, the confessional, the white marble basin of holy water, the prayer candelabra with the OFFERTE sign, the statue of Sant'Agnese by Maderno, the Byzantine icon and chalices within the vitrine, the Caravaggio painting of the Annunciation above the altar, the reliquary that buried the shinbone of Santa Giuliana beneath a sea of gold and glass.... Nothing seemed out of place.

Father Amoroso returned to the telephone.

"Non vedo niente...must be a problem with the system. Please excuse me. Thank you...good night...yes...yes, thank you."

He cradled the phone and switched off the lights. The momentarily enlivened church now slept once more. He reset the alarm, then pulled heavily shut the door, locked it, and returned to his apartment to sleep.

Father Amoroso bolted upright in bed, eyes wide. He'd had a horrible dream in which he could not cease the ringing in his ears. He attributed it to the zuppa di frutti di mare from dinner at Da Saverio, but then realized once again that the ringing was not in his ears alone. Everyone must have eaten at Da Saverio, he thought for a moment, and then awoke more thoroughly.

It was the alarm, once again ringing violently. He looked at his bedside clock. Three fifty. The sun was still sound asleep. Why not he? He put on his robe and sandals and tripped down once more into the sleepless Roman night.

Father Amoroso, though rarely a profane man, muttered minor curses under his breath, as he fumbled with his keys, rammed them into the heavy wooden door, and pulled it open, leaning back on his heels for proper leverage.

This is supposed to be a church, not an alarm clock, he thought.

Inside, he spun toward the alarm on the wall, accidentally knocking the telephone out of its cradle. "Dio!" he muttered, then thought better of it, and pointed up to the sky with a whispered "scusa, signore. I'm a little tired. Scusa."

He switched off the alarm, then turned to the church interior. The shadows seemed to mock him. He flicked on the lights with relish. The church yawned into illumination. Father Amoroso picked up the telephone.

"Si? Si, mi dispiace. I don't know...no, that shouldn't be necessary...just a moment, please..."

He put down the phone, and moved once more to the center of the nave. The tiny church gaped, huge and vacant, within the early morning darkness.

Nothing seemed amiss. This time Father Amoroso walked round the inside walls of the church. He moved along the worn slate paving, past rows of extinguished candles, carved wooden pews, and still shadowy alcoves hiding the figures of saints in relief or in oil. Everything was sound. He returned to the telephone.

"Niente. Niente di niente. Mi dispiace, ma...right, now it's four ten in the morning...yes, probably a malfunction...yes...later in the morning, yes. Nothing to be done until then. Thank you, good night...I mean, good morning. Night ended some time ago....Ciao."

Father Amoroso looked with disdain at the alarm that had twice sounded for no reason, merely to mock him. Perhaps he should not have looked so longingly at Signora Materassi at Mass last Sunday. God has his ways. He would call to have the alarm system checked for faults later on. Perhaps he could still get a little sleep.

Father Amoroso switched off the lights. He ignored the smug alarm as he brushed out the door, locked it, and returned home to capture what precious moments of sleep he still could.

An alarm went off.

Father Amoroso jackknifed out of bed. But then he calmed. It was his bedside alarm. The time was seven, on a Monday morning. That's better, he thought.

The sun was present on the horizon and the day promised its usual Roman iridescence through the humidity of summer. He yawned thoughtlessly and stretched his fatigued arms cruciform. Throwing off his nightshirt, Father Amoroso waddled into the bathroom and emerged a new man, clean and fresh for a new day. He donned his clerical garments and made his way down to Santa Giuliana.

He was still ten minutes early. He was not required to open the door until the stroke of eight. The day was not yet too hot, and Father Amoroso decided to steal away for a moment. He slipped into the bar nearby and ordered a caffè. He admired the sunshine on the ancient paving as he sipped his espresso, standing at the bar. Locals passed in the street outside. The occasional tourist bumbled by, map in hand and camera at the ready.

He checked his watch. Seven fifty-seven. He drank up and crossed the square to his church.

With a pleasurable sense of leisure, Father Amoroso fumbled slowly at his keys and, finding the right one, twisted and tugged at the great wooden door. When he had it yawned sufficiently, he looped the metal catch to prop it open and allowed the still air trapped within to cool down in the morning breeze that flowed without.

He entered the church and threw a look of disdain upon the alarm system as he passed. God, I'll have to have it fixed today, he thought, then realized his blasphemy and glanced up to Heaven for pardon. He shuffled across the floor to the church office, pushed aside the curtain that hid the door, and unlocked it. He turned and crossed to the center of the nave, stopping briefly to genuflect in front of the altar as he passed.

He was about to continue, when he saw it. He couldn't believe his eyes. Perhaps he was still asleep, he hoped. Then it sank in, and he stumbled backward, as he cried out "Dio mio!"

The Caravaggio altarpiece was gone.

Copyright © 2007 by Noah Charney

Chapter 2

"But it's a fake."

Geneviève Delacloche pinched the phone between shoulder and ear, and fumbled with the cord, which she had somehow managed to tangle round her wrists.

Her small office overlooked the Seine, with the yellow-gray stone medieval majesty of riverside Paris arched up on either side of the coral water. Her desk was overcome with papers that had, at one time, been put in precise order. Delacloche was of the hybrid sort of obsessive- compulsive who need a correct place for everything, but never actually keep anything in that place.

The prints on the wall were all the work of the same artist: Kasimir Malevich. They were of the abstract variety that drove mad those uneducated in art, with explicative titles such as Black Square, Suprematism with Blue Triangle and Black Rectangle, and Red Square: Realism in Paint of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions, the latter consisting, in its entirety, of a slightly obtuse red square on a white background. Wood-framed diplomas told of degrees in painting conservation and arts administration. On her desk lay a stack of monogrammed, cream-colored paper, with the elegant Copperplate-font words malevich society printed along the top.

Open on her lap, Delacloche held a catalogue for an upcoming sale of "Important Russian and Eastern European Paintings and Drawings," at Christie's in London. The catalogue was open to page 46, lot 39:

Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935)
Suprematist Composition White on White
oil on canvas
54.6 x 36.6 in. (140 x 94 cm.)
Estimate: £4,000,000-6,000,000

PROVENANCE:
Abraham Steingarten, 1919-39
Josef Kleinert, 1939-44
Galerie Gmurzynska, Zug, 1944-52
Otto Metzinger, 1952-69
Luc Sallenave, 1969
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 1 October 1969, lot 55, when
acquired by present owner

EXHIBITED:
Liebling Galerie, Berlin, 1929, Suprematist Works and Their
Influence on Russian Spirituality, no. 82
Galerie Gmurzynska, Zug, 1946, no. 22

LITERATURE:
Art Journal, 1920, p.181

This painting is believed to be the first of Malevich's renowned and controversial series of Suprematist White on White compositions. It is considered the most important of the series...

"Jeffrey, I'm telling yo...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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