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Monday, 13 December 2010

Review - The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan

The Master of Bruges is the story of Hans Memling, a fifteenth century portrait painter whose voice is masterfully brought to life in this debut novel.

In his newly-inherited position as portrait painter to the nobility at home and abroad Memling is privy to the lives of the rich and the powerful. He is also able to observe the political and personal machinations that motivate them. The story moves Memling from Bruges to England and includes insights into Memling's role in the War of the Roses and the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Talking of a portrait of the Madonna, Memling says the "red rose she wears at her breast is painted from a compound of alum and powdered wood, lye and urine. If you could smell it, the odour would be the stale of horses." He tells us that in the world of painting, "all is artifice", nothing is as it seems. And so it is too with the life and loves of Memling. He has his own dark secrets, and they are not just the secrets of the mixing of paint.

This is refreshingly unlike any other historical novel I have read. It has the scholarship of non-fiction combined with a character that will hold your interest as he tells his true story.

At the heart of this book is the loving recreation in words of Hans Memling's art. In one respect I found it frustrating not to have the illustrations there in front of me, but in another it allowed Morgan to do his job and create them through the writing - a job he does remarkably well. Morgan sticks rigorously to the known facts of Memling's life whilst introducing a plausible sub-text of Memling's own fascinating opinions of those he paints.

This book will delight anyone who paints, anyone who likes fifteenth century history, or indeed anyone who likes a period skilfully brought to life.


  1. I am looking forward to reading this - but have been waiting, perhaps in vain, for it to come out on the Kindle!

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Dee - I must get this book!

  3. Hi, Ms. Swift;
    I'm the author of this opus, and am delighted by your enthusiastic review. I only took up fiction when I retired, so this is a first novel at the advanced age of 66 -- perhaps I should have started earlier! There is a sort of sequel coming out a year hence -- 'The Shadow Prince' -- which follows the fortunes of one of the minor characters in 'Master'.
    Feel free to make contact (same applies to your readers/followers)--