Book Review: “The Night Portrait” Is A Remarkably Well-Written Tale

An exciting, dual-timeline historical novel about the creation of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, and the woman who fought to save it from Nazi destruction during World War II.

‘The Night Portrait’ is a fantastic read. I was very impressed because it was written on dual timelines; the 1930s and the 1400s and the marvelous centerpiece for the story is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine.” Author Laura Morelli weaves her characters so well that you can almost hear the marketplaces and breathe in the stink of the streets of Milan.

It is Milan, 1492, and we have a sixteen-year-old girl, Cecilia, who is being shipped off to a convent because her brothers have drunk and gambled away her dowry. On the journey, she catches the eye of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and ends up becoming his mistress and the mother to his son. As a gift to her, Ludovico has Da Vinci paint a portrait of her, which eventually becomes known as “Lady with an Ermine.”

Meanwhile, in Munich during World War II, Edith Becker, who works restoring works of art, has cataloged the Polish owners of art and she is told she will be responsible for the best art to go to the Führer for safekeeping. Edith is appalled because she knows once taken to Germany, they will never be returned. She starts to keep a ledger with the names of the owners.

Dominic, an American soldier, lands on the beaches of Normandy with his fellow soldier survivors and dreams of his lovely girl and his two babies. He becomes attached to the famous Monuments Men, and with Edith’s help, they set out to rescue and preserve what art they can find.

Da Vinci and his friend, Bernardo, a poet to the court, try to protect little Cecilia as they know what will happen to her being a Duke’s mistress.

I can picture the sea turning red, the streets of Poland crushed and broken as its people are dragged away to the concentration camps. There is such a blend of love, blood, and war, it takes your breath away. Moving from one timeframe to another is no easy feat but Morelli does it with style and panache. I did cry a few times, you would have to be heartless not to feel what the American soldiers go through when they discover what the concentration camps are for. Thousands of dead naked bodies everywhere. You can read this many times but you will never forget it, once it is in your mind, it is there forever. This is a keeper and very highly recommended.

Available in bookstores September 8th

Ann McDonald

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