The Shape of Illusion
by William E Barrett
This is a novel about a 17th century painting, in a Manhattan art gallery with a strange and unsettling quality. The theme of the painting is an unusual one, a subject not painted very often. The ancient canvas depicts Christ leaving Pilots Judgement seat, having been condemned. Roman soldiers are around and in front of Him, clearing a path thru the hostile mob. The people crowding the courtyard are screaming, shaking their fists, spitting and reaching for stones to throw at Jesus.
One by one the friends of the gallerys owner are brought in to see the painting; an artist, a Protestant minister, a Rabbi, a Jesuit priest, all connoisseurs of Renaissance art. One by one they are delighted to view a hitherto unknown work. One by one they are brought up short, shocked and a little frightened to discover, in the painting, their own faces;
” Immediately, I saw myself — my fingers were closing around a jagged piece of stone –It was no mere resemblance; it was a portrait. I have shaved my own face often enough to know its every contour and this was neither an older “I” nor a younger, it was myself as I was.”
The mystery deepens as the group of friends determine that the viewer can only see himself and not the others in the painting.
Kirk Donner, the artist, is chosen by the group to go to the birth place of the creator of the painting and plumb the mystery. The journey takes him across Europe and into a dark past of plaque and witch trials and a small German town where a centuries old Passion Play reveals pieces of the puzzle.
No bullets, bombs or car chases. But a leisurely paced tale that gives you enough answers to make you keep looking long after the last page is turned.