Quattrocento

Written by James McKean
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

Matt O’Brien works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When we meet him, he is restoring an old Italian painting that he found in the depths of the Museum’s storerooms. The painting is of a woman whom Matt finds mesmerizing. His life begins to center around this unknown woman, and portents keep readers from being surprised when Matt finds himself back in her world, in Renaissance Italy. Once there, it takes some time for Matt and Anna, the woman in the portrait, to interact in any meaningful sense, slowing the pace of the book.

I found it hard to get a very good sense of Matt. He often declaims, rather than converses. At times, ideas take precedence over characterization, so the reasons for behaviors or events seem sketchy. The book becomes more engaging about halfway through: the information about evolving painting techniques is most interesting. The historical details are prominent: an example is an engrossing scene of hawking. Music theory and fundamentals of physics play a role. One niggle. The publisher has selected a typeset that uses an odd double-lined hyphen, which stopped me cold each time I encountered it. In a book where pacing was an issue, this was not beneficial.