Martin's Must Reads: 'The Night Portrait'

Mar 16, 2021

“When the Allies located Hans Frank at his Bavarian lakeside villa in May 1945, da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine was among a handful of remaining masterpieces in Frank’s personal possession. He was labeled “the butcher of Poland” and was held in part responsible for the death of the staggering sum of six million innocent Polish people.”

I’m Betty Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads" and that is part of Laura Morelli’s Author Note to her historical novel The Night Portrait. The novel revolves around this famous work of da Vinci, alternating between the late 1400’s and the life of Cecilia Gallerani who is considered to be the subject of the painting and the last few years of World War II in Poland.

In 1939 Edith Becker, a German art preservationist, is conscripted by the Nazis to help catalog thousands of precious art works stolen from Polish Jews. Edith’s first assignment is to safely deliver Lady with an Ermine to Hans Frank.

In an effort of self preservation she does as she is told, but also finds a way to resist by keeping a second copy of the list of  original owners in hopes of returning the art when the war ends.  Dominic Bonelli, a private in the US army, is charged with protecting the Monument Men who are searching for the stolen art. As the war nears an end, Edith and Dominic and the painting all converge. The author holds a PhD in art history from Yale University.

If you’re an art lover and interested in the Nazis’ attempts to amass all the world’s best works of art then you must read The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli.