Noah Charney, ’02, Best-selling Author and Professor of Art Crime

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Photo by Urska Charney
The art world is a haven for the restless mind of Noah Charney.  In fact, Charney found his niche in the art field through his writing. At Cambridge University, while he pursued graduate art history studies, Charney became interested in art crime through exposure to films such as The Thomas Crown Affair. From there, he tried his hand at novel-writing, and the result was the now best-selling The Art Thief. “Until then I had only written plays (about a dozen of them), which I think is evident in that novel—most of the character development is shown, not told, through dialogue.  It’s more subtle, and means that the reader has to piece things together, which is why it is a bit more literary than beach-read thrillers, but I find that sort of thing more satisfying.” Critics acknowledge such complexity in dubbing the book “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” The novel intertwines three fictional art thievery investigations in the cities of Paris, Rome, and London, and is dripping with art history detail. Charney followed critical acclaim for The Art Thief with his non-fiction best-seller Stealing The Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World's Most Coveted Masterpiece, which tells the criminal and art history of Jan van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (Ghent Altarpiece) , which Charney says is “the single most important painting ever made.” To complete the trio of his most-popular works, Charney later published The Thefts of the Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting on the 100th anniversary of the theft of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa from the Louvre.

Art crime seems to straddle the world of both the romantic and mysterious—writers like Charney help expose the serious nature of the matter. In an outside interview, Charney says, “Fictional portrayals [of art thieves] are great fun. [Yet], it is important that art crime should generate the outrage in the public eye proportional to its actual devastating effect.”  Research for the novel made Charney realize that there was relatively little scholarly material on art crime. He says, “I felt that anything I produced would really contribute to the field, which was all but non-existent at the time, just a handful of remote scholars who wrote some books and articles, but without a strong core linking them all, and not a single university department specializing in the field—not even as a subsection of criminology.  In the world of art history I would have just been a droplet in the sea, but in art crime I could help to establish the new field.”

Charney’s novel-writing not only guided his initial research into art crime, but also inspired the creation of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA), a non-profit think tank based in Italy that works in cooperation with police, churches, and art institutions seeking consultation on art crime incidents. Charney serves as founding director and trustee of ARCA. “We’ve since grown into a small but stable non-profit that is perhaps disproportionately high-profile to our size, even featured in The New York Times and quoted widely as the go-to source for expert commentary on art crime.” ARCA runs educational programs such as its flagship annual summer-long Masters Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.  Each summer, dozens of renowned professors, academics and professionals flock to Umbria, Italy, where ARCA offers an interdisciplinary course in all aspects of art crime, from security and investigation to criminology, organized crime and art law. Charney exclusively teaches the program’s history of art crime segment.  Faculty members at ARCA also publish a twice-yearly, peer-reviewed academic journal, The Journal of Art Crime, the first and only scholarly journal in the field. All things considered, ARCA serves as the long-awaited bridge between the world of art and subsequent protective criminology, made possible by Noah Charney.

To learn more about Noah Charney and his work, visit

—Amy Cunningham, ’15, William D. Adams Presidential Scholar