When first published, in 1981, King of the Confessors caused a furore. Thomas Hoving was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1967 to 1977, during which time his commitment to the popularisation of art aroused much controversy. After leaving the museum he published two books - Tutankhamun: The Untold Story and King of the Confessors - which were controversial because they contained revelations about the Museum's (and his own) somewhat dubious activities in acquiring and disposing of works of art.
King of the Confessors has three main protagonists: a magnificent cross, intricately carved from walrus ivory in the 12th century; Topic Ante Mimara, the shady Yugoslav owner of the cross; and Thomas Hoving, in 1963 a curatorial assistant at the Metropolitan Museum, who was determined at all costs to acquire the cross for the Museum. Its main secondary character is James Rorimer, then Director of the Museum, whom Hoving had to persuade to pay the $600,000 which Mimara was demanding for the cross.
Adopting the style of a thriller - which upset some strait-laced critics of the first edition - Hoving tells a gripping story of his dealings with Mimara and Rorimer as he tried to acquire the cross, and gives a no less intriguing account of his attempts to discover the origin of the cross itself and understand its complex iconography. In revising the book for this new edition, he draws upon new sources which make the story of its acquisition even more exciting, and adds significantly to his account of the crosss origin and iconography.
Of particular interest is Hoving's discussion of the Bury St Edmunds connection: the question whether the cross was created, as he believes, by Master Hugo at the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. In this new edition Hoving argues strongly against those who doubt this attribution, and also defends vigorously his view that the cross expresses anti-Jewish sentiments.
Thomas Hovings King of the Confessors is the most exciting, enriching and entertaining book I have read in some little while. It is a fine short course in connoisseurship, a dazzling demonstration of both art and literary detection, a revelation of the urbanely cutthroat world of museum politics and international museum competition, an unvarnished portraint of the young man as a single-mindedly ambitious curator on the rise, and an astonishing proof that a first-rate suspense story can be constructed with neither sex nor violence. - Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times
A whale of a good read...teems with fascinating lore about art scholarship. – Christian Science Monitor
A captivating and skillfully related scholarly mystery concerning a landmark purchase in the history of art. – Wilson Library Bulletin
A remarkable tale of international espionage, art history and museum one-upmanship. – New York Times
...has the suspense of a mystery novel. – Phillippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The book is gripping because of what it reveals about the art world... He makes it clear that art is no different from any other industry, subject to exactly the same pressures and politics...by shattering our illusions, Mr Hoving has done us a great favour. – Spectator
After receiving his Ph.D. in Art History from Princeton, Thomas Hoving served as a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in 1967–1977 as the museum's director. Following that he was TV correspondent and arts editor for the ABC news program 20/20 and, in 1981–1991, editor-in chief of Connoisseur magazine. His many publications include The Art of Dan Namingha, Art for Dummies, Greatest Works of Art in Western Civilization, False Impressions: The Search of Big Time Art Fakes, Conversations with Andrew Wyeth, Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Discovery, Masterpiece, and Tutankhamun: The Untold Story.
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