Imagine a Museum of Lost Art. If this imaginary museum contained just the artwork we knew was lost—whether from theft, purposeful destruction, vandalism, war, or the forces of nature—it would still contain more masterpieces than those in all the world’s current museums combined. In Lost Art: The Stories of Missing Masterpieces, art historian Noah Charney guides you through just such an imaginary museum. In 12 fascinating lectures accompanied by stunning graphics, you will learn the stories behind the theft and/or destruction of some of the world’s most famous pieces of art.
Lost Art: The Stories of Missing Masterpieces
Noah Charney is a writer and art historian who specializes in the study of art crime and forgeries. He has taught at Yale University, Brown University, the American University of Rome, and the University of Ljubljana. He is the best-selling author of more than 20 books, and his works have been translated into 14 languages. He founded the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and is a teacher in its Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.
01: Welcome to the Museum of Lost Art
Discover some of the most important works that would be located in an imaginary “Museum of Lost Art.” Learn about The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, one of the most famous pieces of art in Europe when completed in 1432. But in the subsequent 600 years, it has been the victim of 13 different crimes, and, thus, constantly in and out of that imaginary museum.
02: Hall of Heists: Thieves and the Art They Steal
Annually, in Italy alone, 20,000–30,000 works of art are reported stolen. The US Department of Justice ranks art crime as the third highest-grossing criminal trade. Who steals art, and what do they really want from it? Learn about some of the most famous art heists in history, from Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
03: The Mob Wing: Organized Crime in Stolen Art
Most art theft involves organized crime at some step along the route—stolen art being much more difficult to trace than bank accounts and electronic transfers. Discover the mob connections to the still unsolved mystery of 1969 of the stolen Nativity by Caravaggio, and the 13 works stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.
04: Gallery of Fakes: Forgeries and Attribution
Learn about the relationship between connoisseurship, provenance, and forensics. Can forensics alone—even using the latest technology—accurately identify authentic paintings from those that are forged by a great student of the master? Or does the answer still come down to opinion, as it did with A City on a Rock by “Goya”?
05: The War Wing: Art Plundered through Conflict
Explore the long and troubled relationship between war and art destruction—from the 212 BCE Roman army’s defeat and looting of the Greek city of Siracusa to the 2022 Russian destruction of the Kuindzhi Art Museum in Mariupol, Ukraine. Learn about Hitler’s Altaussee art cache and the complicated issue of art repatriation from WWII.
06: The Hall of Vandals: Wreckers and Iconoclasts
Learn about the difference between iconoclasm and vandalism regarding the destruction of art. Can acts of iconoclasm be justified if the perpetrator doesn’t consider the piece to be “art”? What about modern-day destruction of a statue of a despised dictator? Explore many acts of religious iconoclasm, including the 2001 destruction of the 16th-century Buddha Statues at Bamiyan by the Taliban.
07: Gallery of Misfortune: Art Lost by Accident
Much of art is fragile and can be destroyed in an instant by various types of accidents—from a museum visitor tripping over his shoelaces at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 2006 and falling into a Ming dynasty vase to fires or shipwrecks. Learn about the great fire of 1698 at Whitehall Palace in London that destroyed works by Michelangelo, Holbein, and Bernini.
08: Disaster Wing: Art against the Forces of Nature
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, an estimated 1.5 million tons of lava and ash were spewed over the nearby landscape every second. In addition to people and animals, the eruption smothered uncounted paintings, frescoes, and other artworks, lost for 18 centuries—lost and preserved. Learn about art damage from earthquakes, lightning, and floods, and how some art has been salvaged.
09: No Bequest: Art Destroyed by Artists and Owners
Michelangelo destroyed scores of his own in-progress drawings to make sure no one knew how hard he had to work on a piece. Botticelli sacrificed his own works to Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities in a fit of piety. And other artists destroy their own “imperfect” pieces in sheer frustration. Explore this unusual phenomenon that keeps us from enjoying countless numbers of artistic works we otherwise would have had today.
10: The Basement: Strange and Unsolved Cases
Explore the stories of many lost artworks for which we have no acceptable explanation. And learn about strange “one-off” situations such as The Rescue by American sculptor Horatio Greenough, who said it “depicted the triumph of the whites over the savage tribes.” Previously located at the US Capitol, a joint resolution to the House recommended the statue “be ground into dust and scattered to the four winds.”
11: Not in the Vault: Fabled Art That Never Was
What happened to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Leonardo’s Medusa Shield, and the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan? Or is it they simply never existed at all? Explore the many theories about these items, as well as the possibly fabled cities of El Dorado and Atlantis, and other items of modern times. Were they purely imaginary or were they partly real? And will we ever know with certainty?
12: Lost and Found: Preserving and Restoring Art
The good news is that lost art does not have to stay lost forever. Art can now be digitally reproduced with no ill effects to the original piece, which now allows us to enjoy detailed replicas of items such as 36,000-year-old paintings. Learn about the amazing, full-sized, precise replica of the French Chauvet Cave painting. Museums worldwide have digitized artwork to make tens of thousands of pieces available to all of us.