Dr. Rachel Piers is an expert in restoring art, especially medieval and Renaissance art. She has left a rather good job in New York City, although “fled” might be the operative word. She’s left behind problems with a successful museum expansion and a recent divorce from the man whose firm did the expansion. She’s going to Rome to work with the Ferrara Museum, and she will be focused on one specific project -- a triptych in a small church.
The triptych may turn out to be a work by the Flemish master Rogier Van Der Weyden. If it is, it will be a huge boost in Rachel’s career, fame for the museum, and the likely permanent loss of the work for the church.
Rachel discovers she’s been given a good team: Nigel Thompson, who run the “forensic” laboratory for art; Pia Amata, a research assistant; and Donati, an expert in pigment analysis. As they undertake their research, study, cleaning, and conserving the work, the indications are that it is indeed by Van Der Weyden. But there are also indications leading to doubt.
Unveiling by Suzanne Wolfe reads almost like an art history mystery (the mystery novelist Iain Pears comes to mind) but it’s not. It doesn’t include murders, thrilling suspense, or a heroine chased through the streets. It does include a museum looking to enhance its reputation, with much concern for cutting ethical corners, and a corporate sponsor that wants to enhance reputation as a champion for the arts.
Most of all, it is a personal story, the story of a woman whose left a wrecked personal life, who’s tempted to give the museum and the corporate sponsor what they want, and who finds herself falling in love with a member of her team. It’s a story about breaching boundaries – ethical, professional, and personal.
Wolfe grew up in England and read English Literature at Oxford, where she was a founder of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. She and her husband Gregory are the founders of Image Journal. She is the author of The Confessions of X (2016) and the co-author of Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories (1994); Circle of Grace: Praying with – and for – Your Children (2000); and Bless This House: Prayers for Families and Children (2004). She is writer in residence at Seattle Pacific University and lives in Richmond Beach, Washington.
I wanted more of this story. It’s not a long novel, but I would have been perfectly happy if it had been. I wanted to know more about the divorce, more about Rachel’s mother, more about the research trips Pia the assistant makes to Bruges, and more about the not-quite-villains of the story. Wolf tells a good story, with deep understanding of the art identification and conservation process (and it’s fascinating). I was so wrapped up in the story’s characters that I wanted to know more about them.
Unveiling is a story of art, love, professional temptation, and what it takes to be successful in the highly politicized world of arts, museums, and corporate involvement. And it is a well-told story.
Painting: The Crucifixion Triptych, oil on panel (ca. 1440-1445) by Rogier Van Der Weyden, Museum of Art History, Vienna.