After a couple of trips to Florence, I have been increasingly interested in art history, specifically painters of the high renaissance like Leonardo Da Vinci. Ross King’s latest non-fiction work examines how Da Vinci’s greatest masterpiece “The Last Supper” came about.
The book opens with an explanation of the the history of the area – specifically Milan, where the artist was commissioned to paint the fresco. Knowing the history is important in understanding how patronage works, and how political upheaval (and even death) can pull the rug out from under an artist who spends years on a single project.
I learned quite a bit about Leonardo Da Vinci. He was an illegitimate son, although he grew up in his father’s house and received a fine education (without which, he most likely would not have amounted to much). Possessing a keen and inquisitive mind, he was fascinated by how things work and loved to invent all sorts of contraptions from machinery to weaponry. King portrays him a bit on the lazy side, as he begins projects only to abandon them prior to completion. His patrons often had to threaten and beg for him to finish their commissions. The author asserts that Da Vinci was likely a homosexual who had dalliances with his apprentices.
Leonardo and the Last Supper was obviously well researched, and King does a great job of including relevant information to help the reader understand Da Vinci’s approach to the project. From his choice of oils to models and cartooning and religious attitudes, there is a wealth of information here. I found it read well in the first third and the last third of the book – the middle was a bit tedious for me. I also found King’s discussion of Mary Magdalene, specifically debunking The Da Vinci Code completely irrelevant. Perhaps there are some who found it interesting, but does this really belong in an art history book? Still, I learned quite a bit of new and fascinating information about the great artist and his masterpiece.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012