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Leonardo and the Last Supper

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  1,041 ratings  ·  159 reviews
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 faile ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 25th 2012 by Bond Street Books (first published August 1st 2012)
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16th out of 160 books — 78 voters
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Community Reviews

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I don't think I'm breaking any barriers by declaring that Leonardo was a fascinating genius. Even among his peers in art history textbooks, he's a good head above (most of) the rest in talent, innovation, and WTF-ness.

This is a fun examination (although it's hard not to use the word "romp") through the life of Leonardo da Vinci, with a recurring focus on the Last Supper. Wanna know if that stuff about the painting in The Da Vinci Code was true? Well, I can tell you that it's not, dummy, but if
Jan 14, 2013 Tony rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: art
LEONARDO AND THE LAST SUPPER. (2012). Ross King. *****.
Mr. King has done it again – has managed to focus on a particular theme and give the reader as much information as needed to really understand it. Two of his earlier books accomplished the same thing, “Brunelleschi’s Dome,” and “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling,” both of which I can recommend. In this work, we are led through the obligatory early life of Leonardo – as much as is known – and the reputation he acquired in the world of patr
Aug 31, 2012 Laura rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Dawn
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4:
Leonardo and the Last Supper tells the fascinating story of what went on behind the scenes when Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint what became one of history's greatest masterpieces.

Leonardo Di Vinci's reluctance to paint the walls of the Santa Maria delle Grazie is reminiscent of Michelangelo's reluctance to paint the paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which is brought to life by Ross King in his earlier work, "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling". This new book tells the circumstances that brought Di Vinci to this project, his life while working on it, its technical and artistic considerations, how the changing political situation in Italy both helped and hindered th ...more
Sep 27, 2012 Emily marked it as to-read
recommended by Michael Sims
I have to share the glowing advance reviews of Ross King's new book LEONARDO AND THE LAST SUPPER. And I have to mention that I'm reading the galley and I agree with them.

"This is quintessential King territory, and his uniquely detailed, far-ranging, and engrossing chronicle of the creation of this revolutionary masterpiece ... perfectly complements his best-selling Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (2003). Himself an exceptional portraitist and craftsman, King brings
Well-documented and altogether readable. The chapters toggle between the historical conditions and context on the one hand (the links between Leonardo and the various courts, the links between the Sforza family, Leonardo's painting and some other works, including the large bronze equestrian statue that was never to be) and a description of the painting (not a fresco, incidentally) on the other, with due attention to critiques, evaluations and (mis)interpretations throughout the ages, all the way ...more
The brilliant Ross King is at it again. No one does readable art history for the masses better. This time he takes on Leonardo DaVinci and the painting of the Last Supper. King doesn't truck in hype and rumor, this is the real story covering everything from his treatment of drawing hands to the food portrayed. He is a careful and scrupulous writer and his Leonardo is full of lesser known tidbits and humanizing facts. King's books aren't always the easiest to read but they are always worth the ef ...more
Lots of Italian Renaissance history, related to Leonardo only because he lived during that time and his patrons were of the elite class affected by the politics. I don't think Leonardo himself much cared about the politics.

When there was discussion of how Leonardo actually worked or what his symbolism in his paintings meant, things got interesting. The history part...not my thing.
H Wesselius
Somewhat disappointing. True, Leonardo and the Last Supper is an exhaustive array of detail, fact and explanation, however, it lacks coherence and focus. Without a narrative structure, King wanders from painting techniques, Renaissance politics, and even discusses Dan Brown's conspiracy theories. Without coherence, its difficult for the reader to motivate him or herself to finish the book.
Greg Pettit
The title describes the book very well, in that it covers the biography of the man at least as much as the creation of the famous work of art. I really appreciated having the context of Leonardo Da Vinci's life, his patrons, and the history of the surrounding area.

The book is also filled with illustrations, which were very helpful to understand certain points. It was unfortunate that the center spread, an oil painting reproduction of The Last Supper, couldn't have been a fold out to allow more s
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
What did I learn from this book? I learned that Leonardo had some serious follow-through issues. I learned a lot of other things as well, expected things such as a general history of Leonoardo's life and a lot about his Last Supper painting, and less-expected things, such as a history of his patron, Ludovico Sforza and the various battles taking place on the Italian peninsula at this time. Given the title of this book, I could have done with less of the unexpected things. I don't mind that King ...more
Jun 23, 2014 Therese rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who is interested in history and/art, especially during the 15th century

Before reading this book, I had heard of The Last Supper but knew absolutely nothing else about it other than that da Vinci had painted it, and so when I saw such a great deal, I had to pick it up especially since my sister just visited Italy and saw the Last Supper for herself. Needless to say I have learned a great deal (the author has done exhaustive research), and while this book is not a complete biography of Leonardo, it tells of his beginnings, and the author also sets the stage for
Justine Olawsky
HA! There is a dissenter in your midst! Leonardo da Vinci is meh. That's right -- I said it! And his Last Supper? Who cares? Just another piece of so-called religious art that completely misses the point.

The thing is, though, that Ross King is such a fine writer about art history (and general history)that, over the course of the 300 or so pages, he almost convinced me to care about Leonardo and his ill-conceived mural. Almost.

I guess I just cannot get into Italian Renaissance painting. I read
Joseph Raffetto
Ross King, the author of Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, explores the life of another Renaissance giant.

This is just as much a history about Leonardo and the times as it is the “The Last Supper.” Though it is King’s desire to show that the influences of culture, commerce, food, fashion, politics, eclectic characters and religion inspired the insatiably curious artist to create one of the most masterful works of art in the history of the Western world. L

The reason Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was painting the Last Supper was that Lodovico Sforza (1452-1508) wanted to spruce up the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Graziein order to make it a fitting resting place for his family. Sforza could have such ambitions because he was determined to gain firm control over the city-state of Milan. Leonardo’s painting proved longer-lasting than Sforza’s political success, but required a lot of help to do so.
Francesco Sforza, father of Lodovicio, had

Devon Van Duinen
History and Italy are two of my greatest loves, so when I got my eager little fingers on Leonardo and the Last Supper I was already excited for what was to come. And Mr. King did not disappoint. This is the first work from Ross King I have read and I have already added a few of his other similar works to my wish list.

King (perhaps from experience or sheer talent) has a wonderful ability of covering numerous aspects regarding the life of Leonardo himself, the purpose and creation of the famous pa
Lillian Vancel
This is the nonfiction account of Leonardo DaVinci's creation of "The Last Supper'. It included some interesting details, including the process the artist went through to select models as well as the language of the hands of the disciples. It was worth reading just to be able to identify each of the disciples on the fresco on the wall of the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. He completed the mural in 1497, three years after he began the work; the painting began disintegrating 2o ye ...more
Charles Lewis
I wanted to love this book but I merely liked it. For those of a mathematical bent the chapters on perspective and proportion will be magical. For me they were like a sleeping potion. I also found that I was often confused about the myriad characters that moved in and out of Leonardo's life. I loved King's book on Michelangelo but even there got lost in some of the detail. In the case of the Leonardo and the Last Supper that use of detail seemed to smother a story about one of the world's great ...more
Jun 13, 2014 Alison added it
read in Stresa just before and just after visiting Santa Maria della Grazie and the fresco itself. lots on the politics of the times in Milan and Florence and the dukes and princes vying for power - but this important as someone had to be paying for L to paint or design things - most of which he never finished, or took years longer than expected. Good on the techniques used - not trad fresco but experimental and hence the rapid decay and much repair and refurbishment over centuries. We have prob ...more
This book does a good job of treating Leonardo da Vinci as a real person rather than as a mysterious and romanticize-able genius. Unfortunately, the author seemed to find Leonardo's life not interesting enough to stand on its own and had to juxtapose it with the story of his power-hungry patron. Luckily, if you aren't into the politics of the 15th century Italian court, these sections are easy to skip. The book also overturns some myths and legends about Leonardo and states evidence about what c ...more
Gerald Matzke
An interesting read because it interweaves Leonardo's struggles with political intrigue of the day. My interest was also in life of the church during that time which led up to the time of Luther and the Reformation. It was particularly interesting to hear about the influence of Savanarola in Florence.
The usual quality of Mr. King's writing is still here. Readers are treated with a feast of rich information of the late 15th early 16th century Milan, time when da Vinci served under the dukedom of Lodovico Sforza. For people not so interested in arts, this book may still appeal because then perhaps da Vinci and his mural could simply be excuses for us to rather explore this period of history in the peninsula, which is so utterly charming, full of drama.

The book also disabuses many preconceived
Matt Andrew
This book seemed to spend the preponderance of the time discussing political/military events in Milan, as well as an extensive amount of background on Leonardo. While the research was thorough and information was compelling, there was probably about less than half the book directly related the actual preparation and painting of the Last Supper. I understand current events and Leonardo's life may be relevant in depicting this work of art in a non-fiction novel, but it was so in depth that it felt ...more
If you're a fan of Dan Brown's DaVinci Code and wish to avoid all spoilers - *spoiler alert* - stop reading this review. Brown popularized the longstanding conspiracy of the Priory of Sion, said to be a secret society founded at the end of the 11th century to protect the identity and heirs of Christ's alleged children with Mary Magdelene. It's likely this idea was floated to bring a sense of divinity to a line of Frankish kings from the earliest millenium, but the story is a hoax, in its entiret ...more
I really liked this book - it is a perfect example of book reach of historic details yet accessible for everyone, even those with minimal historic knowledge. The narration is lively and yet the author succeds in smuggling details of Leonardo's workshop & technique as well as changing political situation.

In a nutshell the book depicts the story of "The Last Supper" - from the moment of comissioning till it's completion, narrowing it's focus to couple of years. It gives a bit of background to
Mike Smith
I'm not sure when I became aware of Leonardo da Vinci, but I remember watching a TV mini-series about him in the 1970s. And I had a paint-by-number version of The Last Supper in my early teens. It was huge and I think it took me almost a year to finish it.

As it turns out, it took Leonardo even longer to complete the original. According to this fascinating book, Leonardo was infamous in his own time for being a procrastinator and failing to finish commissioned paintings. In fact, it seems from Ki
Finally, a story about Leonardo that seems to present a more realistic view of the man and his work. The man, the myth, the advertising property that is Leonardo in popular culture has gotten so out of hand. This book seemed to take a more pragmatic look at the man, his life and one of his defining works. He was lazy, he was a procrastinator, he was a man of great thoughts and actions who often contradicted himself in the name of vanity and ease. And yet, the work is the thing. The details, the ...more
Margaret Sankey
This is an engaging popular art history of the context, execution and afterlife of Leonardo's fresco of the Last Supper at the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. The Sforza ruler, Ludovico Il Moro had been patronizing Leonardo and his plans for a gigantic bronze equestrian statute to emphasize the Sforza grip on power, but the invasion by France intervened, the bronze went into cannons, and Leonardo got instructions to go spruce up the Sforza family's planned tomb site. Le ...more
After a couple of trips to Florence, I have been increasingly interested in art history, specifically painters of the high renaissance like Leonardo Da Vinci. Ross King’s latest non-fiction work examine’s how Da Vinci’s greatest masterpiece “The Last Supper” came about.

The book opens with an explanation of the the history of the area – specifically Milan, where the artist was commissioned to paint the fresco. Knowing the history is important in understanding how patronage works, and how politica
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Ross King (born July 16, 1962) is a Canadian novelist and non-fiction writer. He began his career by writing two works of historical fiction in the 1990s, later turning to non-fiction, and has since written several critically acclaimed and best-selling historical works.

More about Ross King...
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism Ex-Libris Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power

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“That one of history’s greatest brains struggled with amo, amas, amat should be consolation to anyone who has ever tried to learn a second language.” 1 likes
“Let no one read my principles who is not a mathematician,” he famously declared (less famous is the fact that the principles he was referring to were his theories of how the aortic pulmonary valve worked). Ironically, he himself was a poor mathematician, often making simple mistakes. In one of his notes he counted up his growing library: “25 small books, 2 larger books, 16 still larger, 6 bound in vellum, 1 book with green chamois cover.” This reckoning (with its charmingly haphazard system of classification) adds up to fifty, but Leonardo reached a different sum: “Total: 48,” he confidently declared.” 1 likes
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