The Boston Raphael: A Mysterious Painting, an Embattled Museum in an Era of Change and a Daughter's Search for the Truth

by: Belinda Rathbone (0)

The discovery of a previously unknown painting by an Italian Renaissance master, and how it went from media sensation to career-ending scandal.

On the eve of its centennial celebrations in December 1969, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts announced the acquisition of an unknown and uncatalogued painting attributed to Raphael. Boston’s coup made headlines around the world. Soon afterward, an Italian art sleuth began investigating the details of the painting’s export from Italy, challenged the museum’s right to ownership. Simultaneously, experts on both sides of the Atlantic lined up to debate the artwork’s very authenticity.

While these contests played themselves out on the international stage, the crisis deepened within the museum as its charismatic director, Perry T. Rathbone, faced the most challenging crossroads of his thirty-year career. The facts about the forces that converged on the museum, and how they led to Rathbone’s resignation as director, is only now fully revealed in this compelling, behind-the-scenes story that reveals how the art world, media, and museums work. This is for anyone who relishes stories of the business of art.

Praise for The Boston Raphael

“Perhaps the most exciting book on the art world since Jonathan Harr’s
The Lost Painting.” ―The Boston Globe

“In the compelling story of her father, Perry Rathbone, and the years when he was the elegant and revolutionary director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Belinda Rathbone evokes our country’s most glamorous years . . .  
The Boston Raphael is a combination of personal memoir and rich, deliciously detailed history that will keep you turning the pages.” ―Susan Cheever

The Reviews

I enjoyed this book, a daughter's biography of her father, Perry Rathbone, director of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts from 1955 to 1972. The center of the book, and the event that led to the title, was a lovely portrait of a Renaissance girl by Raphael who smiles sweetly from her small canvas, procured by Rathbone as an acquisition for the museum that would be a major item in his legacy. An unknown Raphael! Too bad it wasn't! Almost immediately, it was in contention, and in what follows we hear about how museum politics work, how shady many/most acquisitions were in the past, and we might well wonder what the great museums would have to display if the laws governing transfer of art and antiquities across national borders had been in existence--and obeyed--throughout the twentieth century. I didn't give this book five stars because I felt the drama of the false Raphael was secondary to telling the life story of Perry Rathbone. The author, his daughter, may well have had an agenda to clear his name and reveal the charming and honorable man he was, but the book would have been stronger, in my opinion, had it kept the focus on the Raphael from the beginning.

The Boston Raphael offers an intriguing insight into the complicated and often fractious management of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts during the mid-1960s through the early '70s. Under the leadership of Perry Rathbone, the museum flourished until a tiny portrait painted by Raphael purchased by the museum threw the inner workings of the museum into a tailspin.

Got the book

Fascinating story of an interesting sub-culture. It is very well written. Ms Rathbone creates a perfect balance between relating the stories of powerful and willful people, the background to major changes in the museum business, and being fair to her father. Many of the players did not always exercise the best judgment, which she neither covers up nor exploits. It appears that she had access to her father's many unpublished papers. Even if you don't care about the Boston Museum of Fine Arts or its "Raphael," read it as you would a good novel. Except it is real.

In a can't-put-it-down narrative, the author delivers art historical information of the academic, social, and personal sort and at a very high level. I felt present at meetings of the board of the MFA Boston, behind the scenes in Italian museums, and at home with the Rathbone family over a few generations. The entire cast of characters from paintings, to curators, to family members, to the salons of Cambridge and more come completely and engagingly alive.

Biography of a fascinating man in a time gone by in the American art museum world. Lots was going on right under our noses. The Raphael was just a part of the story. Glad that Belinda Rathbone told the tale and that I got to read it.

Good good good!!

Fascinating story and such a well written book. Although it is non-fiction, it reads like a suspense novel and you also learn a lot aboutthe world of art and art is hard to put down.

The Boston Raphael: A Mysterious Painting, an Embattled Museum in an Era of Change and a Daughter's Search for the Truth
⭐ 4.4 💛 30
kindle: $3.59
hardcover: $4.20
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