Leonardo and the Last Supper

Early in 1495, Leonardo da Vinci began work in Milan on what would become one of history’s most influential and beloved works of art-The Last Supper. After a dozen years at the court of Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo was at a low point personally and professionally: at forty-three, in an era when he had almost reached the average life expectancy, he had failed, despite a number of prestigious commissions, to complete anything that truly fulfilled his astonishing promise. His latest failure was a giant bronze horse to honor Sforza’s father: His 75 tons of bronze had been expropriated to be turned into cannons to help repel a French invasion of Italy. The commission to paint The Last Supper in the refectory of a Dominican convent was a small compensation, and his odds of completing it were not promising: Not only had he never worked on a painting of such a large size-15’ high x 30’ wide-but he had no experience in the extremely difficult medium of fresco.
 
 In his compelling new book, Ross King explores how-amid war and the political and religious turmoil around him, and beset by his own insecurities and frustrations-Leonardo created the masterpiece that would forever define him. King unveils dozens of stories that are embedded in the painting. Examining who served as the models for the Apostles, he makes a unique claim: that Leonardo modeled two of them on himself. Reviewing Leonardo’s religious beliefs, King paints a much more complex picture than the received wisdom that he was a heretic. The food that Leonardo, a vegetarian, placed on the table reveals as much as do the numerous hand gestures of those at Christ’s banquet. As King explains, many of the myths that have grown up around The Last Supper are wrong, but its true story is ever more interesting. Bringing to life a fascinating period in European history, Ross King presents an original portrait of one of the world’s greatest geniuses through the lens of his most famous work.

Reviews

Winner of the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction
Amazon.ca - Best 100 Books of 2012
SHORTLISTED 2012 – Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
Finalist for the 2013 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction


“King’s investigation into Leonardo’s work is remarkable … . King is able to evoke and analyze how Leonardo went about his work and offers a brief, unforgettable, story.”
Toronto Star

“The story of Leonardo’s creation of the work has now found an ideal chronicler in Ross King … . A book that offers an engaging and unusually intimate view of one of the great icons of western art.”
The Guardian (UK)

“A gripping account …”
The New York Times

“King has made something like a thriller without any of the obvious materials of a thriller—there’s hardly any conflict in the main plot—and an easy read out of difficult stuff without condescending or insulting. You may not think you need one more book about Leonardo, but you shouldn’t deny yourself the pleasure of reading this one.”
The Scotsman

“King tells us everything that any non-specialist would ever want to know about The Last Supper and the events surrounding its creation… . This work, even in its dilapidated, faded current state, can still tempt some of its viewers to explain, as Ross King has done well, its peculiar magic.”
—The Globe and Mail