I recently finished reading a book entitled Stealing the Mystic Lamb. It's about the Altarpiece of Ghent, a.k.a. the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, and its past.
The Mystic Lamb is the most stolen artwork of all time, having been stolen 14 times since its painting by Jan van Eyck in the 15th Century. In addition to being considered the first painting of the Renaissance (eat your heart out, Michelangelo) and the last painting of the Middle Ages, it was considered to have miraculous properties. None of this "healing the sick" nonsense, though. Oh, no. Supposedly, it would lead scholars/treasure-hunters to not only the Holy Grail (where Eric Idle would greet them, undoubtedly), but also to the Crown of Thorns, the True Cross, the spear (can't remember its fancy-schmancy relic name) and much much more!
I read a review of the book in The Economist and thought it sounded interesting. Interesting in a possibly dull kind of way, but hey, it would look good on my bookshelves, right?
It reads like a frickin' John Le Carre thriller! You have American mobsters (no, not joking here), German Resistance fighters, spies, corrupt churchmen, and the mystery of whether Jan van Eyck actually painted the thing, or if his brother should be credited with it.
I couldn't put it down, particularly once the book reached the part where the Altarpiece was in Nazi hands, being stored in a salt mine in the Austrian Alps, and these American special forces espionage types were trying to reach it before a crazy Nazi officer could blow it up.
It was so exciting, I had to tell somebody about it. So I regaled Major Tom with the story.
He's not as into art history as I am, but he thought the battle sequences were pretty riveting.
At this point, I can't wait to reread it, and I only finished it on Saturday. It's that kind of book! If you're looking for an exciting, informative read that will give you fantastic conversation for cocktail parties, then read it. If not, read it anyway.