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Leonardo and the Last Supper Hardcover – October 30, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“King gives us a gripping account of how that painting was created...[and] deftly situates the painting in a historical context… [a] fascinating volume.” ―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[A] lively history.” ―The New Yorker

“The story of Leonardo's creation of the work has now found an ideal chronicler in Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, which have won plaudits for their concise, close-focus study of great renaissance achievements. King has the gift of clear, unpretentious exposition, and an instinctive narrative flair” ―Charles Nicholl, Guardian

Leonardo and the Last Supper is meticulously researched, gracefully written and fascinating to read.” ―The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Ross King, an English novelist and historian, tells the story, in Leonardo and the Last Supper, of the improbable creation of one of art's greatest masterpieces. With a fiction writer's feel for character, King depicts a supremely ingenious, enigmatic, stubbornly independent, and underachieving Leonardo, and, with a nonfiction writer's skill, he sets the sketch against a richly described background of a society in creative and often violent ferment.” ―Philadelphia Inquirer

“King brings to precise life a fully dimensional, irresistibly audacious, and wizardly Leonardo and his powerfully affecting, miraculously surviving mural. Readers will love the dramatic, vivid, and brainy mix of biography and art history King cooks up” ―Booklist, starred review

“King provides a fascinating look at the artist’s life, including his reputation among his patrons as unreliable, and his relationships with those he worked with and for―including a young boy named Giacomo, who ‘held a great physical attraction for Leonardo.’ However, King’s speculations are never salacious; rather, they help place Leonardo’s life into the context of Florence’s history of sexual tolerance and subsequent religious crackdowns…the book proves most lively when tackling common misconceptions about the painting, with The Da Vinci Code coming in for special criticism.” ―Publishers Weekly

“An absorbing study of a disappearing masterpiece…King places the painting in its political, social and artistic context, describing both the meaning of da Vinci’s work and the violent 15th-century Italian world that spawned it…King plumbs the painting’s religious, secular, psychological and political meanings, registered in the facial expressions and hand positions, the significance of the food on the table and, most fascinatingly, the salt spilled by the betraying Judas…King’s book is an impressive work of restoration―the author helps readers see this painting for the first time.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred

“A fascinating and in-depth story of one of the world's most famous works of art that will appeal to general readers as well as academics. Highly recommended.” ―Library Journal, starred review

“The colorful back story is restored and revealed in Leonardo and The Last Supper, a new book by British author Ross King that quickly dispenses with the outlandish myths spread by The Da Vinci Code novel ― while showing that history is in many ways more surprising than Dan Brown’s popular fiction.” ―New York Post

“The story of Leonardo's creation has now found an ideal chronicler in Ross King, author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, which have won plaudits for their concise, close-focus study of great renaissance achievements. Clear, unpretentious exposition.” ―The Guardian

About the Author

Ross King is the highly praised author of Brunelleschi's Dome (the Book Sense Nonfiction Book of the Year in 2000), Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (on the New York Times extended bestseller list), The Judgment of Paris, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power, and two novels, Ex Libris and Domino. He lives outside Oxford in England.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; First Edition edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717054
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (190 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Ross King is the author of the bestselling Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo & the Pope's Ceiling, as well as the novels Ex-Libris and Domino. He lives in England, near Oxford.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Stepping on Cracks on November 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read in another review somewhere that there are no new facts in this book, and yet my sense after reading it is that its author has made all sorts of facts about Leonardo new again. I've read a pile of books on Leonardo and I probably did know most of this story, but King has a novelist's ability to fill in those details around an event in a way that makes it come alive. He also has a very wise nose with which he follows the story exactly where the reader wishes it to go. Questions raised in the back of your own mind somehow are always addressed. King has a real sense of what the reader wants to know and how things must've felt and smelled and looked like in the 15th century. Everyone knows, for instance, that later in life Leonardo had a long beard, but I did not know how rare a long beard was at the time. I did not know that two years after the `discovery' of America Leonardo was buying corn to eat. Most especially I did not know that there was another artist in the room with him while he painted the Last Supper, another artist painting a crucifixion on the opposite wall across from him at the same time. It never occurred to me that there might've been someone standing there saying, "You sure you want to do it like that? It might peel."

I found this whole narrative fresh and smart and very well told. King telescopes an entire life into those few years Leonardo was painting the Last Supper. This is that rare biography that brings a giant like Leonardo down to human size, and yet you come away seeing this weird toothless old man as one of the great individuals of modern history. Highly recommended. Buy two.
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102 of 108 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
All that survives of Leonardo da Vinci's work are about fifteen paintings and a collection of notebooks and sketches. The Last Supper is the most famous of those works, along with the Mona Lisa.

In the first half of his book, Ross King tells us the story of Leonardo's first forty years - his childhood, and apprenticeship, his work as an artist in Lorenzo de Medici's court, his move to Milan and his work for Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The second half concentrates on the three years that Leonardo spent planning and painting the Last Supper. The final two decades of Leonardo's life, and the continuing life of The Last Supper, are summarized in the final chapter.

The story of Leonardo's life is a familiar one, but Ross King weaves new tidbits among the well-known stories. For instance, Leonardo was an excellent student at school, but he was unable to conquer pesky Latin verbs. And a possible clue to his accent is in his spelling. Spelling was less regimented than it is today, in Italian as well as in English (remember Shakespeare's many spellings of his own name.) Leonardo's spelling Venezia as "Vinegia" may approximate his pronunciation of the city's name.

The Last Supper mural is a story all by itself. Leonardo had no experience painting frescos and had never painted anything as large as this was to be. He hadn't volunteered for the project, and the wall to be painted was in a refectory, a dining room for the friars, not exactly prime real estate for a painting Leonardo hoped would add to his reputation. But money talks and the Duke of Milan had offered Leonardo a huge commission to paint the wall.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
No one is better than Ross King in creating fascinating and beautifully detailed histories of artistic genius. In Leonardo and the Last Supper King has surpassed even his earlier "Brunelleschi's Dome" and "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling", presenting us with a wonderful history of one of the great Leonardo da Vinci's best known works and a detailed biography of the artist and his turbulent time period.

While Leonardo was without doubt one of the towering geniuses of all time, he was also one of the most easily distractable and dilatory. He simply boiled over with enormous numbers of ideas which he either never had time to complete, never even got started on, or never could convince anyone with sufficient resources to back him on. Another major problem with Leonardo was that he wasn't satisfied to do anything the way everybody else did. He always had to try new techniques and new materials, which sometimes worked out splendidly but more often disappointed.

Leonardo painted The Last Supper as one of the many projects assigned him by the great Ludovico Sforza, charismatic military leader and ruler of Milan, including what would have been a majestic equestrian statue. Unfortunately Sforza was heavily embroiled in the endless turmoil of Italian politics, which led to two separate French invasions and massive conflict. Eventually Sforza was overthrown and imprisoned, but not before Leonardo had created the marvelous painting of The Last Supper on the refectory wall of a monastery.

I found King's descriptions of the painstaking work that went into the creation of The Last Supper and his analysis of so many aspects of the painting, such as the meanings behind the positions of the various Apostles' hands, fascinating.
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