English graduate student Jonathan Argyll has come to Rome because he believes his subject artist, a minor 18th century Italian painter named Mantini, may have painted over an early 16th century masterpiece by Raphael, so it could be sold and sent out of the country by an English buyer. Then Mantini painted a copy of the original.
When the painting is tracked down and revealed, it sells at auction in Britain to the Italian government, which spends 10 million lire to keep it in its "homeland." But not long after it finds a permanent home in a national Italian museum, somebody vandalizes the painting, burning it beyond salvage. Moreover, Argyll and an art researcher with the Italian National Art Theft Squad named Flavia de Stefano have begun to think the Raphael itself was a fake.
Soon after, one of the midlevel executives of the museum is found stabbed in the back, and Jonathan and Flavia must track down the real story of the painting, as well as the murderer(s), although it doesn't help that Jonathan himself is a prime suspect. This 1990 novel was the first of Pears's series of Italian art mysteries.
This report prepared by David Loftus
An English art scholar believes he's uncovered evidence that a painting by Raphael was painted over by a second-rate 18th century artist, and that he has located the painting. This, of course, creates quite a stir in the art world, and the Italian art crime squad gets involved.
When the painting is located and uncovered, and a previously unknown Raphael painting revealed, the painting is bought for a huge amount of money at auction by the Italian government, and put on display in a museum in Rome.
At a gala event, the painting is destroyed (by burning), and the head of the Italian art squad has to not only solve the mystery of who burned the painting, but find a way to withstand the political troubles accompanying the loss of the painting.
When someone involved with the painting turns up dead, there is a murder to solve as well. Working together, the art squad and the English art scholar (who is a prime suspect himself) must solve the murders before they themselves become victims.
This report prepared by Wendy S.