James McKean, Author . Doubleday $23 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-50319-8

The thrilling aspect of this time-traveling drama—guaranteed to excite any art-lover—is the discovery of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci; far less moving is the obligatory romance driving the plot. Matt O'Brien, an art restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is cleaning a grimy little painting, buried under many coats of old varnish, when he realizes it may be a hitherto unrecognized Leonardo, potentially of inestimable value. The subject is a beautiful woman, whom Matt names Anna. He spirits the painting out of the museum and compares it in Washington's National Gallery to the portrait of Ginevra de Benci, the sole genuine painting by da Vinci in the country, one of the few of his oeuvre in the world. Both are painted on matching poplar wood, with comparable signature marks by the artist, but the deeper significance to Matt is Anna herself, with whose quattrocento, or early Renaissance, image he has fallen in love. So deeply in love is he, that, like other love-besotted heroes of such stories, he is whisked back to the land and time of his beloved. He discovers that Anna is a contessa, married to an elderly man and pursued by the dangerous and jealous knight, Leandro. Mostly the two discuss pigments, as Anna paints. Their passion does not go beyond a genteel kiss before Matt is returned to his own time, but with the aid of some dubious scientific rigmarole he is back in the quattrocento. Conveniently, Anna's husband has died, the knight is gone and the way is clear for love. McKean's copious descriptions and ponderous prose slow his story down to a crawl, snuffing out the few genuine sparks of painterly delight. (July 2)

Reviewed on: 06/03/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
Paperback - 310 pages - 978-0-385-72130-1
Open Ebook - 168 pages - 978-1-4000-7591-1
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