About the book
Can human creativity triumph over human destruction?
Germany, 1945. Monuments Man John Skilton arrives in the bombed-out city of Würzburg with orders—and a personal mission—to rescue art from the ravages of war. Among the ruins, he discovers a series of magnificent frescoes that have miraculously survived the devastation. But who painted them? More importantly, how will Skilton save them from total destruction?
The answers will bring him face to face with the Tiepolos: Giambattista, the Venetian painter whose vibrant, witty style catapulted him to fame in the 18th century and made him the most successful painter if his day. And Cecilia, his beautiful, cunning wife, mother to their tribe of talented children and the model for the lush, leonine beauties that appear everywhere in her husband’s works.
Set largely against the background of the Venetian Republic in its final flowering, The Merchants of Light tells the true story of a family that lives, loves and dies by painting. In a narrative underpinned with painstaking research, a cast of historical characters including Casanova, Consul Joseph Smith and Enlightenment thinker Francesco Algarotti lend their voices to a tale that spans three centuries and reveals the human passion and hard-nosed business dealing that lie just beneath the surface of some of the world’s most heavenly works of art.
With enduring resonance for our own times, The Merchants of Light is also the story of Skilton, the modest curator-turned-soldier whose struggle to save Tiepolo’s masterpiece is itself an act of creativity, one that turns him into a new kind of hero for our times.
Praise for The Merchants of Light
In The Merchants of Light the immensely gifted Marta Maretich recreates with unerring eloquence the world of Tiepolo, his family, his patrons and his art. Few writers bring such skill to writing about art and these glittering pages, like the masterpieces Maretich describes, are full of life and passion. As I read them, I felt that I too was walking the streets of eighteenth century Venice, a privileged visitor at Tiepolo’s studio. The result is a wonderfully absorbing and exciting novel. Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
Smart, elegant, earthy, and assured, Marta Maretich transports us to eighteenth-century Venice with The Merchants of Light, rendering the world of exuberant Baroque master Giambattista Tiepolo and his family—especially his canny wife Cecilia Guardi—with vivacity and grace. Ellis Avery, author of The Last Nude
This beautifully written evocation of 18th century Venice is moving, haunting and necessary. Maretich inhabits the genius and interweaving passions of painters, art dealers, and conservators — those who create, those who know and connect, those who attempt to preserve. Focusing on the Tiepolo family Maretich changes the way we think about art while she illuminates the world. A major work, full of brilliant glimpses, surprises, pleasures. Grace Dane Mazur, author of Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination
The Merchants of Light chronicles the remarkable marriage between the Venetian painter Tiepolo and his wife, business partner and life-long muse, Cecilia Guardi. It is also a testament to the enduring power of art to uplift, transform and illuminate the dark. Maretich evokes Venice on the eve of Enlightenment with remarkable immediacy – a city full of great beauty and sudden loss, a place which seems both alluringly exotic and strangely familiar. Full of rich, sensual detail, humour, wisdom and an unforgettable cast of characters, this novel made me fall in love with Tiepolo, his family and his world. Catherine Temma, author of The Priest Fainted