17 January 2013

Review: Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King

Leonardo da Vinci got a late start on his path to everlasting fame. By the time he was in his forties, he had a reputation for never finishing his works and for devising strange contraptions. He also had a passion for being a military engineer (weaponry and fortifications) and for exploring mathematics (although he often had trouble with simple addition).

Thus when da Vinci started The Last Supper on the wall of the refectory in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the monks surely had little expectation that the painting would ever be completed.

In Leonardo and The Last Supper, Ross King reveals the fascinating story behind one of the world's most famous paintings. Although the core of the book focuses on da Vinci, King takes the time to develop the context, providing the cultural, political, religious, and technological environment of the late 1400s.

King packed an amazing amount of information into just under 300 pages of text and did so in an easy-to-read style that makes the book accessible to a wide audience. Rather than try to summarize the book, I'll mention just a few things that stuck with me.

The composition of the painting. I was especially interested in the ways da Vinci's scene differed from earlier depictions of the last supper, including the placement of the people, the food on the table, and the colors of the men's robes. King is careful to remind us of the various stories of the last supper, as told in the New Testament and other writings and then discusses those versions in terms of da Vinci's interpretation.

The technical and mechanical aspects. Other sections of Leonardo and The Last Supper discuss the components of da Vinci's paints, pigments, scaffolding, and brushwork. We also learn that the 450-square-foot painting was groundbreaking in a number of ways. For example, the artist's use of perspective, his creation of realistic expressions and body positions, his use of shadows, and his careful placement of the focal point were all innovations that changed the course of art forever after.

The artist's personal life. Da Vinci was far from conventional, and King lets us see the man behind the paintbrush, including his dietary preferences, a typical workday, and his household inventory. Da Vinci had quite an impressive personal library for his day and would often put his artwork aside to pursue his other interests.

There is quite a bit more in Ross King's Leonardo and The Last Supper, such as sections that involve the Borgias, various kings and dukes, contemporary artists, and da Vinci's family. King also talks about the painting in terms of today's popular culture and even addresses Dan Brown's interpretation.

This is a don't-miss read for anyone interested in Italy, da Vinci, art, and/or history and, of course, biography fans. (My audiobook review of this title will be published by AudioFile magazine.)

Buy Leonardo and The Last Supper at a bookstore near you.
Bloomsbury Publishing / Walker, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780802717054
Rating: B

Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


rhapsodyinbooks 1/17/13, 6:28 AM  

I'd probably like this. The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone was one of my favorite books!

bermudaonion 1/17/13, 9:01 AM  

Oh, another book with some art in it! Sounds good to me!

Anonymous,  1/17/13, 9:19 AM  

I have heard about this book for a while, but have been waiting to see reviews to decide if I want to read it or not.

You have convinced me to add it to my to-read list!

Zibilee 1/17/13, 11:20 AM  

I am surprised to find that there is such a wealth of knowledge in these pages, and especially that there is a lot in here that deals with art in the periphery. I would love to read this one at some point, and you've just given me the push that I need to do it! Fantastic review today! I really enjoyed it!

Daryl 1/17/13, 11:42 AM  

sounds like a good read, thanks

Joanna Hennon 1/17/13, 3:45 PM  

The only book about art I've ever read was The Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and I loved it. This book sounds fascinating!

Beth Hoffman 1/17/13, 4:48 PM  

I love Italy and Da Vinci!

Becca 1/17/13, 4:54 PM  

Da Vinci is so fascinating to me. I am starting to feel like him with writing though- never completing anything lol. I love reading about artists, so this is great. Nice review!

Julie P. 1/17/13, 6:56 PM  

My dad read this one. He's really enjoyed some of the author's other books. Not sure this was his absolute favorite.

Belle Wong 1/17/13, 8:13 PM  

Another one for the TBR pile. This sounds like an interesting read. I've always been fascinated by da Vinci.

Jenners 1/18/13, 6:59 PM  

I've seen this painting so much that it has lost its appeal or "specialness." It would be neat to learn why it is such an important painting.

Jen Greyson 1/20/13, 12:22 PM  

This sounds incredibly intriguing. I haven't had a chance to check out the museum display of his works we have going on downtown, either but I need to do both.

Such a fascinating artist.

Anonymous,  1/21/13, 6:32 AM  

Great review. I think I will like this book and will reserve a copy at the library.

Anonymous,  1/21/13, 6:33 AM  

Great review. I think I will like this book and will reserve a copy at the library.

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