Sharon Lorenzo investigates Daniel Silva.

Dan Silva and Wife, Jamie

As a specialist in the field of art law, I have read each of the works of Dan Silva who has written one novel a year since 1997 with a magic formula of spies, international intrigue, art theft, forgeries, and of course the proper mix of what I can only call “sex, drugs, rock and roll”!  Born in 1960 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, his family moved to California, and he completed his B.A. at California State University in Fresno.  His career began as a journalist at United Press International before he moved on to work at CNN in Washington, D.C. in the field of public policy.  By 1997, he was able to retire to being a full-time author and has recently moved to Florida with his wife Jamie and two children. Jamie occasionally interviews him at his book talks.

He has used a series of characters who appear in each work as the central protagonists, the most important of whom is a senior member of the Israeli intelligence service, Gabriel Allon.  Working with our Central Intelligence office in Langley, Virginia as well as the unit he calls M-16 or Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom, Allon and helpers track down murderers, thieves, art forgers and counter-terrorists using ladies of the night, sophisticated spy-ware on their computers, drones and every helicopter or private jet you can imagine.

Silva wrote a book called The Cellist in 2021, which revolved around a painting from the Italian Renaissance which Allon himself as an art restorer used to entice Russian leaders to Zurich for an art exhibition and musical concert by a famous cellist. While he wrote that it was done by the first recognized female artist of the Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi, it really was a work of her father Orazio (1563-1639) and is now in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. The Russians in the story are laundering their money through what he calls The Rhine Bank or the “Russian laundromat”.  Mimicking the operation of Deutsche Bank which did a number of expensive financial transactions with Donald Trump, the Allon team invades the inner workings to grab the Russian cash and break up the illegal banking world of the USSR.  A clever mix of fact and fiction, Silva’s works are more sophisticated than the average airport novel, and often reach the best seller list of the New York Times very quickly.

Orazio Gentileschi, The Lute Player, 1612-1615
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,  oil on canvas.

The field of art restoration has recently morphed into a major player in the international art market as the old formula of just connoisseurs and Ph.D.’s deciding if a work is authentic has been changed by the use of very sophisticated technology. Thermoluminescence and radiography can measure the age of paints, and canvas, and even identify fingerprints in a work of art.  Trained art historians have moved into chemistry and have started full time laboratories such as Orion Analytical which Sotheby’s purchased in 2016 and moved from Williamstown, Mass. to the main auction facility on 72nd St and York Avenue in New York City.  James Martin, its chief executive, examines each artwork that moves in or out of the auction space.

In 2017, in an artwork attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci called Salvator Mundi, fingerprints of Da Vinci were found and used to authenticate the work of art that sold to the crowned prince of Saudi Arabia for $450 million dollars at Christies in New York. With much worldwide debate still raging about the authenticity of this work, it is not on display at any major location at present.  Both the history of its provenance and the opinions of experts who think it was largely painted by his students with a few touches by the master himself have made it a cloudy purchase for such a large sum. It is this kind of mystery in the art world that Dan Silva embraces in his books.

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, 1500, oil on canvas.

Silva’s newest effort for Harper Collins Publishers is entitled Portrait of an Unknown Woman, released recently. The mystery around worldwide art fraud in this book involves a number of artworks as well as one in particular attributed to Sir Anthony Van Dyck, a Flemish Baroque painter born in Antwerp, Belgium (1599-1641). Gabriel Allon is ever-present tracking down international forgers who make copies for big bucks. Portrait of an Unknown Woman $18.89.

Concerned about money laundering in the international art market, our U.S. Congress passed The Anti-Money Laundering Bill of 2020 which now requires art galleries to report international art transactions over $25,000 to the U.S. Treasury. We will see if this indeed brings tighter regulations to a part of our economy which has gone without scrutiny for many decades. It is worth noting that the U.S. Senate had to override a veto of this bill by President Trump. Perhaps Dan Silva will reveal some secrets about our foreign neighbors and friends using the art market to move their resources to safe havens in the days ahead.