I have had a few of Ross King’s books in my collection for a while now, but “Leonardo and the Last Supper” is the first I’ve read so far.
Let me just start by sayig this: if you’ve ever wanted to know everything there is to know about “The Last Supper” in Milan, this is the book you need.
Seriously. This book is so full of information, cover to cover, that you’ll feel like there is nothing left to learn about the painting. King covers the political climate of Milan and the history of the duke’s family, the materials and methods of the work, the mathematics of the perspective, and even information about the members of Leonardo’s studio who contributed to the work.
Here are some interesting facts I learned from this book:
- Leonardo never learned the art of fresco. I feel silly for saying this, but I just kind of assumed that all artists during the Renaissance learned this popular and durable technique. I knew that “The Last Supper” was not painted using traditional fresco techniques (it is actually multiple layers of oil paint on a dry wall) but I thought it was due to Leonardo’s interest in experimentation rather than his lack of knowledge.
- There are different versions of the Last Supper in the Bible. I didn’t grow up in a religious family so my knowledge of the Bible is very limited, but I was surprised to find out that the different stories of the Bible as told by the apostles each have their own version of the Last Supper that vary ever so slightly. The stories aren’t completely different, but they vary in terms of the order of events and who said what, and other small matters such as what they were eating.
- There are theories suggesting that St. John is actually Mary Magdalene. If you’ve seen The Da Vinci Code then you’ve probably already heard this, but it’s an actual theory! John is the apostle sitting directly to Jesus’s right, who is extremely youthful and fairly feminine, leading historians to question his identity.
- Leonardo was a vegetarian! Not really relevant to the painting, but as a vegetarian myself, I was super excited to learn that!
For more fun facts, check out the book. The story was captivating, though the chapter in the middle about mathematics and geometry totally lost me. This is not an easy beach read, as you’ll have to concentrate on who’s who and other facts, but it was fun to learn so much about a single work!
Since I will be living in Italy later this year and visiting Milan and the Santa Maria delle Grazie to see this work, this book provided me with an excellent background on the painting and the city that houses it.
I’m so excited to read his other books, “Brunelleschi’s Dome” and “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling!”