Davies, Robertson. What’s Bred in the Bone.

NY: Viking, 1985.

This is the second volume in the “Cornish” trilogy, but it mostly comes chronologically before the first volume, Rebel Angels. That book began with the death at an advanced age of Francis Cornish, eccentric, miserly, and very wealthy collector/accumulator of great and not-so-great art, and the appointment of his four executors; all the rest of the plot derives from that event.

This book begins shortly after the end of the first one, with Prof. the Rev. Simon Darcourt undertaking to write a biography of the deceased for Francis’s nephew, Arthur, and his apprehension regarding some previously unknown and very unexpected information he’s been turning up. Francis Cornish was well known for his critical acumen regarding the Old Masters, but now it appears he may have created a few purported 15th century pictures himself. And was he really involved with MI-5? The story then jumps back to the late 19th century and Francis’s grandparents in a small end-of-the-railroad-line Canadian town in the Ottawa Valley, tells how Francis’s parents met, how he was born in 1909 and grew up and went to Oxford, and how he entered The Profession. And then how he became apprenticed to the immensely talented artistic craftsman, Saraceni, which changed his entire life, for both good and ill. Davies likes to construct extended set-piece scenes and this time it’s the demonstration by Saraceni before a court of noted critics of the supposed provenance of a painting depicting the Marriage at Cana, a favorite theme of the Masters. And the description of the characters depicted in it is the icing on the cake. It’s a terrific book and I’m looking forward to the third volume — though, personally, I could have done without the daimon and the Recording Angel, and their inter-scene comments on Francis’s emotional and psychological development.

Published in: on 20 June 2011 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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