Misc.

Books Inspired By Works of Art

Art inspires and moves, art invokes and demands response. Centuries ago, even those that could not read were able to look at and understand, or interpret, works of art. Therefore it is only natural that works of art have inspired works of fiction in turn. It provides the perfect backdrop for a historical novel, an already established setting, leaving the author free to flesh out the characters. Or it can bring the past and the present together. Either way, there are so many novels that have been inspired by works of art, and definitely not enough time or space to discuss them all. So here are five examples of books, and the artworks and artists that inspired them.

Goldfinch goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt & Het puttertje by Carel Fabritius

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is set in New York, and revolves around a man called Theo Decker. The story begins with Theo as a child – his mother is killed in an accident and his father abandons him, so he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. The one thing that always reminds Theo of his mother is a painting: The Goldfinch by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. This leads him to a career in art and antiques as an adult – but soon his past begins to catch up with him.

The Goldfinch, or ‘Het puttertje’ as it is called in Dutch, was painted in 1654 by Carel Fabritius. There are not many other known surviving works of Fabritius. It is part of the permanent collection of the Mauritishuis in Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands, although it was recently displayed at the Scottish National Gallery at the end of 2016.

girl_with_a_pearl_earring Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier & Meisje met de parel by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier tells the imagined story of how the famous painting came to be about, as told by the ‘model’, Griet. At sixteen, Griet is sent to work as a maid in the household of Johannes Vermeer in Delft, after an accident results in her father’s blindness. Despite his initial aloofness, Griet soon becomes something like Vermeer’s assistant, due to her eye for art and colour. This causes tension within the household and within Griet’s different personal relationships – and then one day, Vermeer asks Griet to sit for one of his paintings.

Girl With a Pearl Earring, or to give it the original Dutch title ‘Meisje met de parel’, was painted in the 17th century by Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer lived in Delft, in the Netherlands, where the novel is set, and the painting remains in the Netherlands – like The Goldfinch, it can also be found in the Mauritshuis in Den Haag. I managed to see Girl With a Pearl Earring when I visited the Mauritshuis in September 2014, and it really is a gorgeous painting – but actually very small!

venus velasquez I Am Venus by Barbara Mujica

I Am Venus by Bárbara Mujica & the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez

In 1619, painter Diego Velázquez began to gain prominence within the court of King Philip IV. Yet his paintings were dangerous, risque in a time where people were very conscious of sin, and the consequences of being a sinner. Despite this, he produced his riskiest painting, all the while chancing being caught by the Inquisition. As with Girl with a Pearl Earring, I Am Venus by Bárbara Mujica is narrated not by the artist, but by the model.

This particular work of Diego Velázquez‘s is called the ‘Rokeby Venus’, or the ‘Toilet of Venus’, and was completed between 1647 and 1651. It shows Venus, lying on a bed, gazing into a mirror held up by her son Cupid. This is the only surviving nude by Velázquez, not a surprise when the Inquisition would actively hunt down any such artwork. When it was first brought to England from Spain, it was displayed at Rokeby Park in Yorkshire, which is where the name comes from. In 1906 it was moved to the National Gallery in London, where it has been ever since. It was actually attacked by a suffragette, Mary Robinson, in 1914, after the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst, but has since been restored.

madame x Strapless

Strapless by Deborah Davis & Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent

Strapless by Deborah Davis tells the story of the real ‘Madame X’ – 23 year old Virginie Gautreau, a New Orleans Creole who moved to Paris and became an ‘it girl’. She was pursued by artists, but it was John Singer Sargent who was lucky enough to actually paint her. However, the painting did not have the desired effect, and caused nothing but scandal and controversy. Strapless looks at how it affected Virginie herself.

This painting is entitled ‘Portrait of Madame X’, and was painted by British artist John Singer Sargent in 1884. The title was meant to keep the model’s identity anonymous, but obviously this did not work, and people were shocked and scandalised. The main issue was that one of the straps on Madame X’s dress was hanging loose, a sign of ‘loose morals’ and wanton behaviour, so Sergant had in effect painted her as a prostitute when she was in fact a lady of high society. Sargent later repainted the strap onto the shoulder, but the damage had already been done, and he was never able to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France. ‘Portrait of Madame X’ now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

mona lisa i mona lisa

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis & The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis is an imagined account of the real Mona Lisa, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy wool merchant. Set in 15th century Florence, it is a romance and a mystery all in one, inspired by the history and art of Renaissance Italy.

The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, is possibly one of the most infamous paintings in the world. Painted at the beginning of the 16th century, it is believed to be of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a merchant turned local official. For such a famous painting, there is a lot of mystery around it – Lisa’s expression, the setting, and until very recently, the identity of Lisa herself. It has been the subject of much popular culture, for example Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and there have been plenty of copies made around the world. The Mona Lisa is now on display at the Louvre, in Paris, and has been attacked and stolen several times – apparently, the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1914 was what drew attention to it, and before that it was not widely known outside the art world.

Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend any others inspired by works of art?

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Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: October 2016

monthlyru16

Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

oct16

Last month I read a total of fourteen books: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by V.E. Schwab, The Sin Eater’s Daughter (The Sin Eater’s Daughter #1) by Melinda Salisbury,
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1) by George R.R. Martin, Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1) by Robin Hobb, Aristocrats: Britain’s Great Ruling Classes From 1066 To The Present by Lawrence James, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker’s Guide #1) by Douglas Adams, Goldenhand (The Old Kingdom #5) by Garth Nix, The Fireman by Joe Hill, Revenger by Alastair Reynolds, Nerve by Jeanne Ryan, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I have to say, October was a really great reading month. I managed quite a few books, and half of them were 5-star reads. I re-read two books this month: A Game of Thrones (which I have been meaning to re-read for about five years) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s really hard to pick a standout because so many were amazing: Goldenhand, Greatcoats, Americanah, This Savage Song… not to mention my first ever Robin Hobb novel, Assassin’s Apprentice. Basically I would say read them all!

 

Challenge progress:

  • I managed to defeat October’s villain, Jack O’Lantern, in the DC vs Marvel Challenge. Next month’s villain is Indigo, who I am not familiar with.
  • I have currently read 107 books towards my Goodreads goal. I’ve now hit the goal of 100, but I won’t raise it as I don’t want to pressure myself.

 

Currently reading:

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
How was October for you?

Misc.

Books Set In The Netherlands

It’s now been over two weeks since I left the Netherlands, but that’s not going to stop me posting about it! In this post I wanted to share some books set in that wonderful country. Whilst I searched high and low for books set in different provinces, there is definitely a bias towards Holland. I was only able to find books set in either Zuid-Holland or Noord-Holland, so whilst it’s not completely representative of the entire country, it’s a start! Feel free to suggest other titles in the comments. 🙂

Books set in the Netherlands

1 – 3. Haarlem

The Black Tulip The Hiding Place The First Sir Percy

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom and The First Sir Percy by Emmuska Orczy

4 – 7. Amsterdam

The Dinner After the Silence by Jake Woodhouse Quicksilver Tulip Fever
The Dinner by Herman Koch, After the Silence by Jake Woodhouse, Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson and Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

8. Den Haag/The Hague

Lust for Life
Lust for Life by Irving Stone

9 – 10. Delft

Girl with a Pearl Earring The Golden Tulip
Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and The Golden Tulip by Rosalind Laker

Have you read any of these, or do you have any suggestions?