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Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece

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3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  424 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece is on any art historian's list of the ten most important paintings ever made. Often referred to by the subject of its central panel, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, it represents the fulcrum between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is also the most frequently stolen artwork of all time.Since its completion in 1432, this twelve-panel ...more
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Published October 5th 2010 by PublicAffairs (first published September 11th 2010)
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Ms.pegasus
Oct 26, 2013 Ms.pegasus rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in art history;
STEALING THE MYSTIC LAMB is a scholarly work wrapped in sheep's clothing. Even the opening chapter might well serve as the précis to a grant application. The book is dense with details and judiciously presents numerous contradictory hypotheses surrounding a succession of thefts in the long history of the eponymous “Mystic Lamb,” a barn-sized folding set of painted oak panels also know as the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck.

Charney is at his best, however, in the role of art historian. He explai
...more
Timothy Hallinan
The Ghent Altarpiece -- the masterpiece of Jan Van Eyck, possibly the first major oil painting in history, the most influential artwork of its day. It's been seen as the last great work of the Middle Ages and the first great work of the Renaissance. It is packed with symbolism enough to engage scholars for centuries, and it has. It's reputed to conceal vast mysteries, if they could only be decoded. Hitler, always a fan of the occult, believed it contained clues to the location of the Arma Christ ...more
Lizzie
Aug 02, 2010 Lizzie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art historians
This is a book about the misadventures of the Ghent Altarpiece, the "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb", completed by Jan van Eyck in 1432. With its realistic depiction of the Lamb and its adorers, it links Medieval and Renaissance art and is the national treasure of Belgium. Not surprisingly, it's been stolen and recovered a number of times.

Charney starts with a detailed description of the 24 panels that make up the polyptych panel painting: a main panel showing the adoration of Christ depicted as a
...more
Julie
I wasn't sure I would like this book. When I visit art museums, I enter rooms of medieval art more from a sense of duty than from love.
I picked it up anyway, because of the compelling list on the dust jacket, of torments the Ghent Altarpiece has endured and survived: it's been stolen 13 times, and that's the least of the dangers it has faced.
I'm so glad I read this book. Charney's enthusiasm for art and history is infectious. I used to think the paintings hanging on museum walls had, somehow, a
...more
Scott Graham
Charney does a marvelous job describing the creation and survival of what I consider to be the finest painting in Western Civilization. Describing how such a large and heavy masterpiece could be stolen, forged, hidden, threatened with destruction and ransomed was a fascinating eye opener to me. (The piece has been stolen 13 times; nothing else even comes close.)
I thought the book dragged a bit before it reached the climax of the Nazis attempt to loot the piece - it was discovered in a salt mine
...more
Patricia
Feb 02, 2011 Patricia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pat Fitzpatrick, Becky Daroff, all art lovers
Shelves: art-history
This is an excellent look at the history of art theft told by looking at the incredible history of one monumental painting, Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, also knowns as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Charney must be a wonderful professor; he makes this story read like a novel and keeps you riveted up until the very end. I read this as a "train book" and nearly missed my stop one night when I was totally engrossed. Charney's first book was a novel, The Art Thief. I liked it, but I hope he w ...more
Claudia
"Art is a symbolic magnet for nationalism, more so than any flag. Artworks resemble lambs in an open field by night. The nations are the shepherds.Their ability or failure to defent the lambs, not only from midnight wolves but also from other thieving shepherds, is a sign of their country's strengths."

HUndreds of years' of art history, all revolving around THE LAMB, the Mystic Lamb, the Altarpiece of Ghent. I read the wildly popular MONUMENTS MEN first, and say Charney interviewed in a program a
...more
Margi
Fascinating look at the troubled history of one of the most famous works of art, The Ghent Altarpiece. This book delves into the artist of the piece as well as the time, the people, and the other history surrounding it. The Ghent Altarpiece is the most stolen piece of art of all time. It has been stolen, illegally sold, hunted by Nazis, (think Monuments Men) dismembered and so much more. We read this book for our book club and there was so much to discuss. Who really painted it, the symbols foun ...more
Joseph
Using the masterpiece The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (aka The Ghent Altarpiece) by Jan Van Eyck, Charney provides us with a very interesting account of what happens to great art during periods of intense turmoil. The book reads a bit like a novel, describing the “relationship” between many key figures in history and the disposition of great art, from the early renaissance through the baroque period. We read about how some of the unholiest men – despots, kings, and otherwise maniacal leaders – ...more
Andrea
I loved this book. I'm a little obsessed with art theft, but this is a great read for any history or art lover. Concise, interesting, fast-moving. The Ghent Altarpiece has had quite the life.
Valerie
This is between 3 1/2 to 4 stars. The books follows the history of the Ghent Altarpiece from its creation to the mystery still surrounding it today. The art is intertwined with history--the Catholic and Protestant wars up to WWII. I love art and history, so this was fascinating. My one critique is that the story seemed to retell itself--first this group stole it; then this group stole it; and so on. It made each chapter feel a bit like the previous one, but with new names. The end mystery about ...more
iubookgirl
Stealing the Mystic Lamb is an account of the many crimes perpetrated against the Ghent Alterpiece, also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This book represents exactly the kind of non-fiction I don't enjoy. Rather than the "riveting narrative" claimed on the back of the book, I found Mystic Lamb to be a a dry, and sometimes repetitious, presentation of facts. The detailed description of the piece and background history of Jan van Eyck, the artist, and the city of Ghent became tedious to ...more
Ann
Mona Lisa, Shmona Lisa. The most important oil painting in art history is not the smiling seductress from the Louvre, but a monumental altarpiece painted by Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck, whose rightful place is a chapel in a Gothic cathedral in the Beglian city of Ghent. The painting has had a tormented history that will fascinate anyone with an interest in art history or the history of Western Europe.

Some of the other reviewers have commented that the author digresses on numerous occasions. Tha
...more
Newport Librarians
Jan van Eyck's 1432 multi-panelled oil masterpiece depicting Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, judges, pilgrims, popes, martyrs, the Lamb of God, and more, all in splendid color and detail and known as the Ghent Altarpiece, may be considered the first oil painting and is certainly one of the world's recognized treasures. Art historian Noah Charney does a fine job explaining the importance of van Eyck's 24 scenes to the general reader. But the story of the altarpiece really springs to life when he ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
The most stolen art work in the world is NOT the Rembrandt self-portrait, which has been stolen a mere four times, but Jan van Eyck's The Ghent Altarpiece which has been taken a total of seven times. And it's not the sort of thing you can just shove in your pocket and stroll out with--it has 20 panels fitted together into a triptych of 11 1/2 by 14 1/2 feet, weighing 2 tons. The most recent theft occurred during World War II when Hitler and his gang of Nazis were stripping all of Europe of art m ...more
Sarah
I read Stealing the Mystic Lamb after scouring the Philadelphia Museum of Art museum store and finding this gem. I was reading The Art Forager when I found this and I was so excited to read a perspective of a real-life art heist.

I first learned about the Ghent Altarpiece, or the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in freshmen year art history class, and I'm still amazed that the huge work (both in scope and size) was able to be stolen thirteen times, and is debatably still not all found. The twelve pan
...more
Ann
Part art history, part true crime, part WWII drama, this book has something for everyone. The masterpiece is the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, and I had never understood its importance in the history of painting and Belgian national pride. This made it a target for Hitler, too, and the story of its recovery by the Monuments Men is riveting as well. Even thought I knew the outcome, I was turning pages as fast as I could.
Lorna
This was the book chosen for December in the Atelier 6000 book club, Cheers to art. I gave an illustrated presentation on the altarpiece and we discussed the power of this work; why it wasso frequently stolen and, especially, the style and content of Adam and Eve. The book gave a rich historical background for our persentation and it is a good read.
Freya
Niet het meest bekende kunstwerk, maar zeker een van de bekendere. Ik wist dat er met dit schilderij veel aan de hand is (geweest). Erg boeiend om daarom dit boek te lezen. Ik denk niet dat een kunstwerk zo vaak is "gestolen" (al dan niet in delen en ik beschouw oorlogsbuit ook gewoon als diefstal) als dit werk. Een aantal van de verhalen kende ik al, maar een groot deel ook niet. Zeker interessant om te lezen is ook dat in een van de wereldoorlogen een verdrag is opgericht wat als doel heeft ku ...more
Caro
The fascinating story of the Ghent Altarpiece and its myriad misfortunes is not well served by this book. The details are there in abundance, but there's not much life. I'm looking forward to reading "The Monuments Men" and harkening back to "The Goldfinch."
Becky
Frankly, if you are interested in art history than this is a fantastic work. You don’t get much more fantastical than the story of the Mystic Lamb, the most stolen piece of art in the world.

I felt that the pacing was correct for the work. The author spent a good amount of time detailing the creation and important of the Mystic Lamb, the mystery shrouding its painting/signature, and then proceeded to tell as much of the story as he could. Naturally the largest section was that of WWII, when there
...more
F.j.commelin
He's a great write about art.
After ''The art thief''
about the strange world of art-business, auctionhouses.....he now traces what happened to the famous piece by the van Eyck brothers from the beginning it was made till now.
Catherine Kesseler
This book provides a great deal of information regarding the altarpiece, the artist Jan can Eyck, and the various times the altarpiece has been stolen. Even thought the book should of been exciting it wasn't. The pace picked up during the World War II portion.
Just A. Bean
Non fiction about the Ghent alter piece by Jan Van Eyck, which has been stolen repeatedly over the centuries for a variety of reasons. The first few chapters discuss the painting and painter in detail, then it jumps into it's long and storied history of being lifted. The book is also something of a history of art theft, but usually stays close to the story of the Ghent and the painting. I found it engagingly written and often very funny, though it did drag a bit in the section detailing the 1934 ...more
Amanda
Really almost an art historical text book, this book is not for everyone. The first half is devoted to art historical research and unfortunately the author has some errors in what he is saying. The second half is more entertaining and follows the historic path the famous Ghent Altarpiece took. However at several points the author seems to get sidetracked and starts in on some rather dry history about whatever period he happens to be talking about. Not a bad book, but there were some passages tha ...more
Alberta
A 2010 New Yorker article about the Ghent Altarpiece introduced me to it, so when I saw this book was available through the library, I borrowed it. The description of the work in great detail was helpful to my understanding of what this piece represents. That it has been one of the most stolen artworks was a surprise.

As an audio-book, it is different when someone is reading the story aloud. It allows you to do other things while listening. Still, I found the history of this work compelling, and
...more
Megan
Ugh! This book is so interesting, and now I have to set it aside for two months for my J / YA only Librarian's Read Challenge which starts tomorrow. I'll definitely be getting back to this one the first week of March.

Hoorah! Back to my grown-up book!

Update: You know, I was so looking forward to getting back to this book, but now I find it kind of boring. I think the author spends too much time going off on tangents rather than focusing primarily on Van Eyck's painting. This is more of a 2.5 for
...more
Lydia
If you could give half stars this would receive a 3.5 star....kept going back and forth between 3 & 4 stars. I had never heard of "The Ghent Altarpiece" or "The Mystic Lamb" and loved learning so much about it. I thought it's history of being stolen was fascinating. In fact, I liked learning so much about the history of artwork in general being stolen and used in war time. The only thing was during those detailed times...it got a little too bogged down in the detail of how art has been treat ...more
Holiday
This is the story of the Ghent Altarpiece, specifically focusing on how it was stolen several times in its history. I love the true-adventure aspect to this historical account, but wish that the author would have gone into even more detail. He should also have included a timeline of events, because the painting in question is many centuries old and a lot happened over those years. I was left with even more questions than I started out with, but maybe that's a good thing because now I will probab ...more
Marie
It took me a long time to read this book and I'm really not sure why. The book was thorough, organized well and on a topic that interested me. So why on earth did it take me so long to get through it?

Someone mentioned it in their review too, that the author tended to digress. I agree with this. I feel like the overall book had a lot of good information, but it was presented in a round about, wordy kind of way. I think with a more exacting editor this book could be stream lined into a more intere
...more
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Noah Charney 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.
More about Noah Charney...
The Art Thief The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World The Thefts of the Mona Lisa Barcelona

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