FICTION

The Night Portrait: A Novel of World War II and da Vinci’s Italy

Morrow. Sept. 2020. 496p. ISBN 9780062993571. pap. $16.99. F
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Morelli’s (The Giant) novel revolves around four characters in two time periods: Leonardo da Vinci, Cecilia Gallerani, Edith Becker, and Dominic Bonelli. In the 1490s, Leonardo da Vinci is tasked with painting the portrait of the Duke of Milan’s mistress, Cecilia, a young woman intent on being more than what society says she can be. Meanwhile in the 1940s, Edith, a German art conservator, attempts to use her position to return Nazi-stolen art to its rightful owners, and American soldier Dominic works his way across Europe, trying to find the looted works. The stories connect via Leonardo’s painting, Lady with an Ermine.
VERDICT Morelli’s wonderfully intertwined, quiet tale set during unquiet times reveals truths about the human character and the will to survive. The well-balanced historical fiction on the plight of stolen artwork during World War II moves smoothly between the centuries, focusing on individuals and their own motivations, fears, and ambitions. The theme of survival appears often in the narrative, connected to both people and objects alike and creating another layer for readers to enjoy.

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