Review: Bartolomé: The Infanta’s Pet by Rachel van Koolj

Hello!

I am off on holidays for a couple of weeks so there will be no blog posts until I’m back. However, I have lots of exciting things planned – including an author interview, and lots of posts about all the art I will have seen in New York!

For now, here is a review of Bartolomé, a wonderful historical novel. I love books that incorporate art history, and this one does it beautifully as well as being a very moving read.

Bartolomé: The Infanta’s Pet

Rachel van Koolj; translated by Siobhán Parkinson

Little Island, 2012

12+ Historical Fiction

As a dwarf living in seventeenth-century Spain, Bartolomé has little hope for the future. He has a loving family, but when they move to the bustling city of Madrid he is hidden inside so as not to shame his father, who works at the royal court. Others like him are begging on the streets, but then Bartolomé is noticed by the young Infanta, princess of Spain, who wants him to be kept as her human dog. The palace may be luxurious, but life is cruel for Bartolomé. The only joy he finds there is in the mysterious world of the painter’s studio.

Translated from the original German text by Siobhán Parkinson, this book offers a rich and moving portrayal of the past. The world is described evocatively, I particularly enjoyed the scenes in Velazquez’s studio. The book was inspired by Velazquez’s famous painting Las Meninas, a portrait depicting the Spanish royal family (1656, now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid).

Bartolomé, an unusual choice of protagonist, offers a very different view of courtly life and really shows the difficulties of living with a disability in a society that does not understand him. However, while there are many upsetting moments when Bartolomé is mistreated, there are also uplifting acts of humanity and kindness. Through certain sympathetic individuals in the text, the ones who learn to see Bartolomé for his personality and his talents, the book has a hopeful ending.

At times a difficult read, this was nonetheless an enjoyable and well-written book. With an atmospheric setting and memorable characters, it is definitely an engaging read. The book is notable for its historical accuracy and depiction of the seventeenth century, but also for its imaginative interpretation of the creation of this famous painting. The writing flows beautifully, I am very glad it was translated into English – and done so well too!

Las Meninas by Velazquez. Image from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

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