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Leonardo's Incessant Last Supper

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1890951184
ISBN-10: 1890951188
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Original to the point of provocation, veteran art historian Steinberg (The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art), a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, has long been a legendary figure in his field. This fascinating new study is as much about the idea of Leonardo's famous Last Supper in Milan as the actual, ruined painting itself. Most critics have seen Leonardo as wishing to freeze a single moment in time, but Steinberg asserts convincingly that the table scene portrays "successiveness and duration." He makes lively contemporary parallels, from a magazine cartoon of The Last Supper, with Jesus telling a waiter, "Separate checks," much to the astonishment of the disciples, to the ballet Agon by George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, which, like The Last Supper, also contains infinite groupings that add up to 12 protagonists. In chapters like "Seven Functions of the Hands of Christ," Steinberg adds multiple layers of complexity to the work, shown repeatedly in 201 b&w illustrations and a four-color gatefold insert. There are intriguing aphorisms sure to lead anyone who cares about art to much pondering, like calling The Last Supper "probably the only great painting that earns praise for being symmetrical." Among numerous lengthy appendixes is a particularly useful one on later copies of Leonardo's masterwork. After reading this delightfully stimulating excursus, art lovers everywhere will still regret the painting's ravagement by time, but an intellectual achievement of this order is a real consolation. (Sept. 1)Forecast: The more The Last Supper deteriorates, the more interest it seems to generate. Most casual and serious readers of art history will find the combination of Steinberg and Leonardo hard to resist, and academic collections will not want to be without it. This will be a big book in the field this season, and the painting's fame should lead to some generalist reviews.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Another Da Vinci icon familiar to most of the world is, of course, La Gioconda, or The Mona Lisa. Sassoon (history, Univ. of London) has written an accessible work, more historical than analytical, that is essentially a biography of the painting itself. Nearly every fact one could ever hope to know about The Mona Lisa is traced, and the travails of the painting provide more than enough action and drama for any reader. Sassoon's knowledge of the minutiae of history and his respect for the image drive the narrative, which ranges from the painting's intriguing beginnings through the abuse of the image by the modern advertising industry. The Mona Lisa has traveled the world and smiled her way into the minds of many generations, and the author rightly points out her effect on the popularization of serious art in general. Thoroughly researched and highly readable, this is recommended for all libraries.
- Douglas McClemont, New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Zone Books (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1890951188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1890951184
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,041,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
You have seen the image hundreds of times. It has been copied and parodied relentlessly for over five hundred years. It shows Jesus at the center of a dining table, flanked by six disciples on either side. Everyone knows _The Last Supper_, but few know as much about it as Leo Steinberg, who has looked and written and thought about it for thirty years. The result of these decades of concentration are poured out in _Leonardo's Incessant Last Supper_ (Zone Books), as close an examination of a painting as you will ever find. The book is not about the painting's history, its decay, or its restoration; it is, in astonishing detail, about the looks of the picture itself and a demonstration of how it continues to be an "incessant" font of thought and speculation as to its meaning. Steinberg's big book is wonderfully well illustrated, with details from the original, a generous gatefold to show it in its current restored state, pictures of how it looks within the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, how Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and a host of others copied the painting (and how they left out significant parts, and what the omissions mean), and plenty of diagrams to show such things as the lines of perspective and the effects of matrices and diagonals on Leonardo's meticulously planned original.
Steinberg has chapters on the disciples, on feet and hands, on the disciples, and more. The main figure, that of Jesus, bears, of course, the closest examination, and Steinberg details the history of thought about it, with writers weighing in on the meaning of the pose and the timing within the Gospel story of the scene depicted. Over and over, Steinberg shows that to seek a meaning and a timing is in vain.
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Format: Hardcover
Leo Steinberg wrote a very intellectual, rigorous book about Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. I liked the way it gave so many fresh perspectives on how to analyze and interpret the painting. The genius of the book is that is amalgamates an enormous amount of information about the Last Supper...and somehow leaves you feeling that only part of the information has been uncovered. It's a feeling of ambiguity; so much has been learned, but we have so much more to discover. Just like da Vinci would have wanted! Steinberg is a great author for this subject.

I will leave most of the surprises and delights of the book for you to discover, but consider: Steinberg writes about connections between pairs of apostles in the painting (threes are not only significant, and in fact are probably less significant); he shows how Leonardo possessed an advanced understanding of perspective and created an impossible location; and the book contains an overview of (da Vinci) Last Supper copies throughout history.

I do not recall Steinberg discussing John the Baptist as actually being a woman or more speculative aspects of the Last Supper such as secret society messages. Leonardo's Incessant Last Supper attempts to give an analysis of the painting that unearths why and how Leonardo da Vinci painted it, and in my view Steinberg comes closer than anyone I have read. econ
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Fascinating reading. Steinberg totally immerses the reader in how art historians have "read" the painting for centuries. Leonardo's masterpiece may have been a ghost of its original self even in Da Vinci's lifetime but that hasn't stopped the world from gazing upon it, analyzing it and appreciating its filmic movement--its incessant wonder.
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