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The Tsarina's Lost Treasure

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Member Reviews

A solid piece of scholarship which unfurls with historical detail and colour and a real sense of place and time, and the geopolitical networks the art moved through. Bittersweet, the way all accounts of lost things are.
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Interesting story on sunken treasure and all that it involves. A tad to long of a read and a disappointing ending.
From locating the sunken treasure to legal battles with countries, museum curators and investors.
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I read this ARC for an honest review
All thoughts and opinions are mine

There are very few books I give a 5 star rating to
They have to be utterly exceptional and be books that I would then pass around to friends and family and INSIST they read them

This is one of them !!! For me, that makes it sooooo exciting

I loved the way the authors fit this tale's threads altogether -amazingly in-depth.  Clearly a HUGE amount of research was involved here 

It was an area of history that was new to me so it was exciting to me from that point of view

If you are interested in history an absolute must have
If you are not, still an amazing read

Its June and I it is my read of the year so far
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There are basically four kinds of books:

1. Books that you dislike to the point where you actively discourage people to read them
2. Books that you dislike and move on from
3. Books that you like but that aren't that big a deal one way or another
4. Books that you like a great deal and encourage others to read

The problem with the whole entire world is that there really aren't that many books in #4, and that it's hard to find them, and that there isn't enough time to read all of them anyway.

Setting that aside for a moment, one of the books I have in #4 is a book called SHADOW DIVERS, by Robert Kurson, and is just an incredibly good story about the discovery of a World War II submarine off the cost of New Jersey. So what I would like you to do at this point is stop reading this review and pick up SHADOW DIVERS and read it, and then come back and finish this review. Okay? Thanks so much.

(brief pause to allow you to read SHADOW DIVERS)

Great! I hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for coming back. All right. So SHADOW DIVERS was awesome, right? But it could have been better, couldn't it?

Yes, it could. 

Stay with me.

It could have been better if there had been a parallel story about the U-boat and how it sank, right?

Come on. You know I'm right.

Let me explain. I am not trying to say anything bad about SHADOW DIVERS. It is a very good book on its own. It doesn't <i>necessarily</i> need to have a parallel story about the U-2 mission. It is fine the way it is and it is not fair to blame it for being what it is not. Are we good? Okay.

If you have read this far, thank you again, and I am mostly trying to be silly because it is very late and I am completely exhausted and probably not hitting on all eight cylinders here, but this is the thing about THE TSARINA'S LOST TREASURE--it's a #4 book and it tells all the backstory.

Sounds cool, right?

(Okay, stay with me a little longer because this is the start of the actual review and the first sentence is a little complicated.)

THE TSARINA'S LOST TREASURE is a book about a ship that sunk while it was carrying a consignment of paintings by Dutch Old Masters from a legendary art collection in Amsterdam to Catherine the Great's court in St. Petersburg, and the subsequent rediscovery of the wreck and the legal brangling that followed.

Got all that?

Okay, that is, really, you have to admit it, a LOT of backstory all in one package. But it all hangs together beautifully. There's the story of the shipwreck itself. Then there's the story of Gerrit Dou, the underappreciated student of Rembrandt who deserves better from history. Then there's the story of the wine merchant turned art dealer who built up a fabulous collection of Dou and other Dutch paintings, and let it all be auctioned away. Then on top of that you have the story of Catherine the Great, and her efforts to build Russia as a force in the Enlightenment art world, complete with lots of intrigue, and then on top of that you have the story of the discovery of the wreck and the back-and-forth between multiple stakeholders about what happens to it.

It is a dirty, rotten shame that THE TSARINA'S LOST TREASURE came out during the darkest days of the pandemic, and if you missed it that's probably why. (My novel, A CIRCLE OF FIRELIGHT, came out a month before the start of the lockdown.) But you can find it now, and if any of this sounds the least bit interesting to you, pick it up. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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*contains affiliate links*

In October 1771, the Vrouw Maria merchant ship sank off the coast of Finland. She carried lots of cargo, including several works of art that Empress Catherine the Great had bought at auction in Amsterdam from the collection of Gerrit Braamcamp. The lost works included Paulus Potter's Large Herd of Oxen and Gerard ter Borch's Woman at her Toilette.

Several attempts were made to find the wreck until it was finally located by Pro Vrouw Maria in 1999.

The Tsarina's Lost Treasure brings together several storylines, including those of Catherine the Great, Gerrit Braamcamp, the crew of the merchant ship and the people who eventually located the shipwreck and the ensuing legal battle. The book is very well-written and manages to bring all sides to the story alive throughout the centuries. I liked that it didn't focus too much on Catherine the Great's backstory but did include her involvement in the auction and her growing art collection.

Unfortunately, many of Vrouw Maria's treasures remain lost to us, so perhaps one day, there will be a sequel to the saga.
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A very in-depth look at the worlds of art, royalty, ship salvaging, and how they all fit together to tell one tale spanning centuries. I'm impressed with the level of research that was done to provide so much information on every facet of this book, going not just into the events but also into the lives of the people involved. This is an excellent book that i would recommend to anyone who is at all interested in history. I learned so much about topics I never would have thought to look into.
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Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC]

This book presents a fascinating overview of a number of topics: the art of the Renaissance, the Russian empire’s eminence in Europe, Catherine the Great’s rise to power, the history of art dealership, the process of rescuing a shipwreck, and more.

I think my favorite part – along with the description and intrigue of the Russian court – was the introduction I received to Gerrit Dou’s work. Though I was somewhat familiar with the Dutch masters’ art, I had not heard or read about Dou before. After researching his work, “Sleeping Dog” has become one of my all time favorite paintings. The level of detail is exquisite. His talent was truly immense – surpassing even his teacher Rembrandt, in my opinion.

In short, this is an enthralling, well-written read for fans of art, history, or anyone looking for a story that will keep them hooked.
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This is an extremely detailed history of the old Dutch Masters. The writers have documented every home owned, every student taught, every art show mounted, every brush used by these artists. The other half of the book is a detailed history of Russian imperial court, palace intrigues, and Catherine the Great. It’s interesting but dense, so be prepared.
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I love art history and royalty so naturally this book sounded perfect for me, and I couldn’t put it down.

The story spans from the 1600s up to the present day, and I love a good multi-timeline story! I really enjoyed learning about Dutch art history, noble/royal family backgrounds and alliances. It was nice to have alternating chapters on these subjects for the first half of the book! Provides nice background to better understand the importance of the ship and it’s treasures as well as the characters involved.

The second half then focuses on salvage technology, history of wreck hunting, and some other shipwrecks in the same region as the Vrouw Maria. I didn’t enjoy the second half of the book as much. The chapters in this section could be a bit dry at times, specifically with what seemed like unimportant background info on the divers lives. Those sections didn’t really relate to how they got into diving and their experiences (ie Rauno and his boxing past and trip to Russia). I just found this sort of detailing unnecessary and like it could’ve saved some pages.

I had no idea how dramatic and intense shipwreck salvaging was between marine archaeologists/museums and wreck hunters! It was crazy and I didn’t expect to enjoy that section so much. The authors also talk about maritime law and the field of marine archaeology which could be dry at times but it was necessary for the story and it helped me learn something new. if that wasn’t enough drama and complication about the ships history, add in political dynamics and things are bound to “rock the boat” 

Of course the art history sections were fantastic for me! The book looked at how art evolved in Europe, and how in the 19th and 20th centuries America started affecting the art world. They mention the erasure of Gerrit Dou as a Dutch Golden Age master, which makes sense as he was highly valued up until the 19th/20th centuries when other artists of the time (Rembrandt and Vermeer) became more internationally recognized. Even now my Dutch husband hadn’t heard of Dou, although he’s not much of an art lover anyways.

Highly recommend this book if you enjoy art history, maritime adventures, political dynamics, or royalty-centered stories-this book will have something for you!
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This is the best type of historical novel in my eyes - a true story told as a narrative. I really enjoyed the way the story unfolded. The action was engrossing, and I learned an incredible amount along the way. 

I will be recommending this novel to my students for those who want action and adventure, as well as those who enjoy historical fiction. I will be buying a copy for my classroom library and hoping it doesn't disappear, as all the good books seem to!
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My review of this book appeared in on 14 February 2021.  It can be seen at
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What a fascinating book! As suspenseful and compelling as any thriller, it’s the story of the Vrouw Maria, a merchant ship which left Amsterdam in October 1771 with a consignment of Dutch masterpieces destined for Catherine the great of Russia. Sadly the ship sank into the Baltic Sea near the coast of Finland and there it has remained, visible, accessible but contentiously not salvaged. The ship and its precious cargo has become a legend and the rights to it fiercely contested. Meticulously researched, the book weaves together the story of the wreck with an overview of the history and art of the era, the life of Catherine and her passion for collecting art, the legal battles arising from attempts to salvage the Vrouw Maria, a dissection of the arguments about who actually now owns the cargo, an examination of whether the precious art works could have survived, and so much more. A really exciting, interesting and multi-layered read.
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A real triumph of narrative history.  This has everything,  sunken treasure boats, a lost painter whose paintings rivalled Rembrandt and Vermeer in their power to beguile, a lesson in geo cultural warfare and the tale of a little German girl who would become an Empress.
Everyone should read it
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I love nonfiction books it seem like fiction.  This book is a non-fiction narrative but it definitely reads like a fictional adventure novel.  I highly recommend this read.
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344 pages

5 stars

October 1771 the Vrouw Maria sailed with a very valuable and hidden cargo on board. She was headed for Russia to the Imperial Court of Catherine the Great. Among the twelve Dutch masterpieces aboard were Gerrit Dou's “The Nursery.” Dou was perhaps the most famous and most talented student of Rembrandt. 

The Vrouw Maria ran aground in a bad storm off of Sweden and sank. Alas the hidden paintings were lost with the ship. 

The book flashes back to Dou and Rembrandt's time and the reader gets a primer in the art of painting. There are numerous little tidbits of information discussed that are very interesting. 

Sophie from Zerbst in then Prussia was just fifteen-years old. Her father was the affable Prince Christian and her mother was Princess Johanna who was an uncaring busybody. Sophie and her mother made the nine hundred mile overland trip to Moscow for Sophie to meet her betrothed, Grand Duke Peter. She accepted conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church and chose the name of Catherine.

The book gives brief highlights of Gerrit and Catherine's lives. It also discusses the atmosphere and politics of the times periods, even the revolutionary efforts of sea salvaging in those early days of 1771. I had no idea of those early efforts. I was impressed and fascinated. The history and changing attitudes in the world of art is also covered at length. After having gone online and viewed some of Gerrit Douw's works, I was especially incensed at how the world of art history had treated him. 

The book discusses the search for the ship in modern times and its being found. Heated arguments broke out among explorers and divers about the rights to the ship and its treasure. 

This book is very good, especially for those who are interested in art, diving, Russian history or shipwrecks. It is very well written and easy to follow and enjoyable to read. It is loaded with interesting and enticing tidbits. I was let down at the ending, but it was always supposed to be thus. We can't get what we want all of the time...but since it combined three of my greatest interests: diving, Russia and lost art, it was truly a winner for me.

I want to thank NetGalley and Pegasus Books for forwarding to me a copy of this great book for me to read, enjoy and review.
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