Lucrezia de' Medici by Bronzino or Alessandro Allori, ca. 1560
A picture is not only worth a thousand words: It can sometimes inspire a whole invented world. Independent art historian Heidi Applegate explores the art and artists behind three works of historical fiction. Gain new perspectives on Renaissance portraiture; Dutch still lifes, genre painting, and a cabinet house; and the Frick Collection in New York City by delving into the novels, followed by Applegate’s examination of the factual background along with the fiction. This is a “novel” way to explore the arts.
April 7 Maggie O'Farrell, The Marriage Portrait, 2022
The Marriage Portrait tells the story of Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici and the portrait of her by Agnolo Bronzino, commissioned in 1560 by the Duke of Ferrara, on the occasion of their wedding. Bronzino's assistant returns the favor of saving Lucrezia's life when it becomes clear that the Duke intends for his marriage to be a brief one. Frescoes and sculptures are supporting characters in the Renaissance palaces and villas where the murderous intrigue takes place.
May 12 Jessie Burton, The Miniaturist, 2014
Soon after Petronella Oortman marries the prosperous merchant Johannes Brandt in 1686, he presents her with a replica of their house as a wedding gift. When Petronella begins to order miniature furnishings for the dollhouse, she realizes that the mysterious artist she has hired knows more about her new life in Amsterdam than she herself does. Floral still lifes, banqueting scenes, maps, tapestries, and a trompe-l'oeil ceiling fill Brandt's house, while the interiors described in the novel recall Dutch Golden Age genre paintings by Gerrit Dou, Gabriel Metsu, Gerard ter Borch, and Johannes Vermeer.
June 16 Fiona Davis, The Magnolia Palace, 2022
In 1920, an artist's model fleeing murder charges unwittingly stumbles into a job working for the Frick family in their mansion on Fifth Avenue. Fifty years later, a Vogue shoot goes awry during a blizzard and a fashion model is trapped inside the mansion—now a museum—with an art-history student intern. Works of art in the collection are clues in a puzzle devised in the ’20s and solved in the ’70s, and the timeline of the novel is constructed so that characters from both periods meet in the end.