The Tsarina's Lost Treasure
Catherine the Great, a Golden Age Masterpiece, and a Legendary Shipwreck
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On October 1771, a merchant ship out of Amsterdam, Vrouw Maria, crashed off the stormy Finnish coast, taking her historic cargo to the depths of the Baltic Sea. The vessel was delivering a dozen Dutch masterpiece paintings to Europe’s most voracious collector: Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. Among the lost treasures was The Nursery, an oak-paneled triptych by Leiden fine painter Gerrit Dou, Rembrandt’s most brilliant student and Holland’s first international superstar artist. Dou’s triptych was long the most beloved and most coveted painting of the Dutch Golden Age, and its loss in the shipwreck was mourned throughout the art world.
Vrouw Maria, meanwhile, became a maritime legend, confounding would-be salvagers for more than two hundred years. In July 1999, a daring Finnish wreck hunter found Vrouw Maria, upright on the sea floor and perfectly preserved. The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure masterfully recounts the fascinating tale of Vrouw Maria—her loss and discovery—weaving together the rise and fall of the artist whose priceless masterpiece was the jewel of the wreckage.
Gerald Easter and Mara Vorhees bring to vivid life the personalities that drove (and are still driving) this compelling tale, evoking Robert Massie’s depiction of Russian high politics and culture, Simon Schama’s insights into Dutch Golden Age art and art history, Gary Kinder’s spirit of, danger and adventure on the beguiling Archipelago Sea.
Praise For The Tsarina's Lost Treasure: Catherine the Great, a Golden Age Masterpiece, and a Legendary Shipwreck…
— Sara Jorgensen
"Wide-ranging and meticulously researched. Easter and Vorhees braid the various threads of the story together and make a persuasive case. Readers will covet this intriguing portrait of an art world mystery."
— Publishers Weekly
"An apprentice to Rembrandt, Gerritt Dou eventually surpassed his teacher in fame and wealth. Over the centuries, however, Dou’s reputation has shifted repeatedly with the tides of fashion in the arts. His story makes up one strand of this engaging new book by Easter and Vorhees. An intriguing narrative, and an entertaining yarn whose ending is yet to be written."
— Kirkus Reviews
“Gerald Easter and Mara Vorhees skillfully weave the shipwreck of the Vrouw Maria and its secret cargo with the lives of Dutch Golden Age painter Gerrit Dou and Russia’s art-loving Catherine the Great. The high stakes search for the tsarina’s lost treasure, 18th century and modern, reads like a detective story. A true delight for fans of art, mystery, and maritime archeology.”
— Susan Jaques, author of The Empress of Art and The Caesar of Paris
"As the ‘Sea Hunters,’ we had seen wrecks as scattered fragments on coral reefs, as steel structures torn apart by storms and battles in deep water, as rusted, collapsed hulks, and as exquisitely preserved time capsules. We’d found ships with profound historical and cultural connections. . . . Others were filled with cargo of exceptional value to science or archaeology—or had actual treasure. But until Vrouw Maria, we had never seen a ship that had all of that. Lost art masterpieces? A wreck found thanks to dedicated archival research and focused ocean surveys? A wreck discovered incredibly intact, nestled between a shoal of rocks as sharp as dragon’s teeth? This was a wreck that should have been in a Clive Cussler novel."
— James P. Delgado, Maritime Archaeologist and Author
"The Vrouw Maria was initially of no great importance—less than 100 feet in length it was just a two-masted wooden cargo ship. But what a cargo and what a story it harbors. The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure takes this long-lost ship and its priceless cargo, and blends in the story of Dutch art and its competitive owners. And that is just the beginning of the story of Catherine the Great’s lost artworks."
— Tony Wheeler, co-founder of LONELY PLANET
Pegasus Books, 9781643135564, 400pp.
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
About the Author
Mara Vorhees is a travel writer with an expertise in Russia, New England, and Central America. She has written or contributed to more than 40 guidebook editions, published by Lonely Planet.