The Engraver’s Secret by Lisa Medved

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Lisa Medved is an Australian author who spends much of her time in The Hague. She has worked in public relations and event management submitting work to various corporate publications and magazines in the UK and the Netherlands. In this, her first novel, she takes the reader into the seventeenth-century Flemish art world and to the relationship between two of its skilled artists, Lucas Vorsterman and Peter Paul Rubens.

This book was originally published in the Netherlands and Belgium in February 2022 under the title De Graveur; however, this edition is said to be slightly different from the Dutch language version.

Like most historical fiction writers, Lisa Medved has taken inspiration from some historical facts and embellished and altered what is available to produce a credible and fascinating story. She has gained much inspiration from the buildings and streets of Antwerp.

History tells us that Lucas Vorsterman was a major figure in seventeenth-century Flemish art, both as a printmaker and a publisher. His close collaboration with Peter Paul Rubens ended when the two artists fell out, opening the way for Vorsterman to pursue independent success.  Their relationship of employer and employee, comrade and rival, longtime friend and onetime foe, was one of the contradictions which had a negative impact on their families.

Most readers would have heard of the name Rubens in relation to art. Sir Peter Paul Rubens was an artist and diplomat who is considered the most influential artist of the Flemish Baroque tradition.

There are two storylines which alternate throughout the book, one set in the seventeenth century and the other in the present. They have much in common and not just the art that links them. The main characters around which the novel is based are both daughters, although their relationships with their fathers are completely different. One appears to be based on love and respect, the other ignorance and contempt. They are strong and independent thinkers, both driven in their search for knowledge believing that it is a privilege they can nurture themselves (60).

They have both been recipients of death-bed confessions which become a huge burden to carry alone.  This story deals with the issue of copyright, a word which did not come into use until 1729. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the term used was ‘operating privilege’ (417). The striving to stand out from the crowd by being better than others, and the lengths that individuals are prepared to go to, is prominent in both storylines.

What I found interesting was the way these storylines are presented. The one set in the seventeenth century is written in the first person through the perspective of Antonia, daughter of the engraver, Lucas Vorsterman. The modern tale is in the third person about Charlotte Hubert, an art historian whose main area of focus is the painter Peter Paul Rubens.

When Charlotte takes up a short-term post at the university in modern day Antwerp, she encounters the competitiveness of academics trying to get themselves noticed in this highly competitive, male-dominated field. Things happen which puts everyone on edge. There is an ever-present fear of having one’s person or treasured work under threat. This creates a tension, so that the reader, and the female protagonist, does not know who among those around her can be trusted. The author provides the full range of emotions experienced by her characters making them very relatable.

When a hidden document is revealed, the past and present are drawn closer together.

Although the unravelling of facts in the story keeps the reader enthralled, I did find an extra pleasure in the description of the workings in a coffee shop in terms of an orchestra. ‘The mechanical symphony of a coffee machine churns in the background. The barista works like a conductor, tapping out dregs, refilling the brew basket, guiding the hissing wand into milk’ (172).

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Flemish art world and the intrigues that plague many a community where competition thrives. This story is a credit to Lisa Medved.

For a first novel it is intriguing, educational, easy to read and full of emotion which transfers to the reader affecting their own response to certain characters and settings. The Engraver’s Secret is well worth the read.

The Engraver’s Secret


by Lisa Medved



$32.99; 432pp

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