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Book 102: A Name in Blood by Matt Rees

Book 102: A Name in Blood.
Author: Matt Rees, 2012.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Art.
Other Details: Hardback. 288 pages.

Italy, 1605: For the ruling Borghese family, Rome is a place of grand palazzos and frescoed cathedrals. For the lowly artist Caravaggio, it is a place of rough bars, knife fights, and grubby whores. Until he is commissioned to paint the Pope... Soon, Caravaggio has gained entry into the Borgia family's inner circle, and becomes the most celebrated artist in Rome. But when he falls for Lena, a low-born fruit-seller, and paints her into his Madonna series as a simple peasant woman, Italian society is outraged. Discredited as an artist, but unwilling to retract his vision of the woman he loves, Caravaggio is forced into a duel - and murders a nobleman. Even his powerful patrons cannot protect him from a death sentence. So Caravaggio flees to Malta, where, before he can be pardoned, he must undergo the rigorous training of the Knights of Malta. His paintings continue to speak of his love for Lena. But before he can return to her, as a Knight and a noble, Caravaggio, the most famous artist in Italy - simply disappears... - synopsis from author's website.

It is clear from Matt Rees' website that he became very caught up in the mystery of what happened to Caravaggio in 1610. Certainly Caravaggio led a tumultuous life, an embodiment of the tortured artist who is his own worse enemy, while pushing the boundaries of art in his day. Here Rees weaves in details of Caravaggio's various works and his relationships and seeks to answer the question of the manner of his death. His 2011 novel Mozart's Last Aria sought to do a similar task with the circumstances of the mysterious death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

His Author's Notes and website also give details of how Rees not only immersed himself in written sources about Caravaggio's life but also took up oil painting, creating his own versions of a number of Caravaggio's works, and fencing, so he could appreciate this aspect of Caravaggio's life. He also walked the streets that Caravaggio knew in Rome, Naples and Malta and sought out the archives of the Knights of Malta. I always have respect for writers of historical fiction who immerse themselves in their research.

Rees approaches the mystery with his journalistic sensibilities and also pens a powerful story in which early 17th century Italy comes vividly alive. Caravaggio was never one of my favourite artists but the novel gave me a fresh perspective on his life and art.

Matt Rees' web pages on 'A Name in Blood' - includes sample chapter. Also under his 'Features' drop down menu are various articles about his research for the novel and his own versions of Caravaggio's paintings.
Tags: art, historical fiction, mystery
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