Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Colour of Heaven by James Runcie

Before James Runcie began his hit crime series The Grantchester Mysteries – currently showing on tv - he wrote this charming novel. The Colour of Heaven is set in Venice during the early days of the Renaissance. It is the story of Paolo, who cannot become a glassblower in his father’s footsteps because he is short-sighted. Instead he is apprenticed to an artist who sends him on a quest to find lapis lazuli, the stone from which ultramarine is made.

Lapis lazuli was the most precious colour on the artist’s palette; it is the colour of the Virgin’s gown - as the title says, the colour of heaven. It is also the colour that allowed artists to express depth through perspective, abandoning the gold backgrounds of the more iconographic art of the Byzantine era, creating a more realistic style of painting.

Paolo’s quest will take him to an area that is now in Afghanistan, as far as China and back to his anxious family in Venice. He will fall in love in the first destination and learn to see clearly in the second. The Colour of Heaven is a sweeping novel with an appealing protagonist. Its setting is a wonderful time in art, as well as history – the humanism, science and new ways of seeing - which makes for enchanting reading. And Runcie always gives you a bit to think about as well.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Colour of Heaven

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