If you wipe a fake or newly-painted oil painting with rubbing alcohol, will the paint come right off?
Sort of. The inspiration for Jack’s cover-up came from three lines in a book called The Forger’s Spell:
The easiest test of an old master—and the one test almost certain to be carried out—is to dab the surface with rubbing alcohol. In a genuinely old painting, the surface will be hard, and the alcohol will have no effect. If the painting is new, the alcohol will dissolve a bit of paint, and the tester’s cotton swab will come up smudged with color.
Since decades-old oil paint will smudge—and I wanted Jack’s composition to come off completely—I settled on latex paint, as it is more easily removed and was indeed being developed at a New York City paint store in the 1940’s.
Was there really a “La Fornarina”?
Vasari (like any gossip, not always the most reliable source) tells us that Raphael had a favored mistress who was sent away on his deathbed “with the means to live an honest life.” He also identified the painting we now call “La Fornarina” as a portrait of the mistress “whom [Raphael] loved until he died.” In the second edition of Vasari’s book, someone made a note that this mistress’s name was “Margarita.”
The nickname “La Fornarina” only came into vogue later, based on a legend that Raphael’s lover had been the daughter of a baker. This legend seems to be confirmed by a document that shows that a Margherita Luti, daughter of a baker, retired to a convent four months after Raphael’s death.
Was Raphael really married to her?
The jury is out on this one. There is no hard proof and no marriage certificate. But there is one pretty extraordinary piece of evidence, the same one that inspires Bodhi to drag the painting to the hospital. In 2001, restorers x-rayed the famous La Fornarina portrait and uncovered a ruby ring on the sitter’s wedding finger. This—along with traditional nuptial symbols like pearls, myrtle, and quince–suggest that the painting we call La Fornarina may in fact have been a wedding portrait.
Did they have a child together?
As far as I know, that part is pure fiction.
Were La Velata and La Fornarina the same person?
Some of the greatest art historians still disagree on this point. What do you think?
Can you really ask your local hospital to x-ray a painting?
If you ask nicely. In 2010, an English man took a work by modern painter Robert Lenkiewicz to his local hospital, where they agreed to x-ray it. Underneath they found a portrait believed to be worth 5 times the painting on top.
Pigment analysis, craquelure, carbon dating, infrared, blacklight imaging—did you just make these words up to sound high-tech?
Nope. These methods—and more—are all real art authentication techniques used in major institutions like museums and auction houses.
I want to see a relative’s military record. Can I send away for it just like Theo?
Yes, you can. Just as Eddie discovered, some of the country’s military records are readily available online. For example, you can search World War II enlistment records here.
If you want to see the full military record, go here to request it. There is a fee that ranges based on the size of the record. And remember: Theo was lucky to find any record at all. In 1973, there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, and many of our country’s rare military records were lost forever.
I had relatives in the Holocaust. Do I have to go to the Center for Jewish History to find information on them?
Luckily, many of the resources for finding Holocaust victims and survivors have been digitized and made available online. The Center for Jewish History compiled this extremely helpful guide, which compiles online resources as well as documents available in their library.
Was there really a division called the Monuments Men?
Yes, although its official name was the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program. The division was formed midway through the war, in 1943, and was compiled of 400 servicemen and civilians. The Monuments Men Foundation website is a great place to learn more.
Was the Berga concentration camp experience really classified? Were the POWs sworn to secrecy?
Yes. After the prisoners were liberated, they were asked to sign a “Security Certificate for Ex-Prisoners of War,” stating that, in order to protect “the interests of American prisoners of war in Japanese camps” and any future wars, they would never “reveal, discuss, publish or otherwise disclose to unauthorized persons information on escape from enemy prison camps” and that “the authorship of stories or articles on these subjects is specifically forbidden.” It wasn’t until the turn of this century that these brave men began sharing their stories.
Can you really pay a penny and go to the Met?
Yes! The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a pay-as-you-wish institution, every day of the week. That said, it costs a lot of money to house our collective cultural heritage. So you’re encouraged to pay the suggested full amount—$25 per person—or at least, as close to it as you can.
Are you allowed to play Attack! in the Arms and Armor room like Theo and Bodhi?
Lydon hopes that Theo has a famous Raphael self-portrait that went missing in World War II. Is that a real painting?
Yes, and as I was writing the book, this Portrait of a Young Man was still missing. But amazingly, as the book went to press, the portrait was reported to be found in an undisclosed bank vault!
Are there really townhouses in New York with connecting doors?
The inspiration for this idea was the adjoining rowhouses at 45-47 65th St. They were commissioned as a wedding present from Sara Roosevelt to her son Franklin: one side for her, one side for him and his new bride, Eleanor. Eleanor Roosevelt later remembered about the arrangement: “you were never quite sure when [my mother-in-law] would appear, day or night.”
In New York, do people really take home stuff they find on the streets?
I can’t speak for other people, but . . . um . . . I do