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Leonardo and the Last Supper

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,382 ratings  ·  262 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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Average rating 3.89  · 
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Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, audiobook
I like Ross King. I really enjoyed Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling so I knew I would like this one equally as well and this book did not disappoint.

Everything you wanted to know about Michaelangelo life, how he painted this, how the colors are made, are all discussed. Then he delves into the mind of Michaelangelo to interpret how (and after whom) the faces are drawn. What the apostle's may have been thinking at the time and even the placement of hands and positions of the bodies are all anal
Aug 26, 2012 rated it liked it
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.

Sep 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
3½ stars

One of the major events in the Passion of Christ is his last meal with his disciples. He prepares them for his departure, institutes the Eucharist, and identifies Judas as his betrayer.

During puberty, I usually ate supper looking at a print of Leonardo’s The Last Supper on the opposite wall, so I can attest that for me any mention of Christ’s last meal will always project an image of Leonardo’s painting, as it undoubtedly has for many millions of others in the last five centuries. It is
Aug 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Laura, Carey and all Radio listeners
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Long, long ago, lost in the vastness of time, when I was around twelve or thirteen, I bought my first art book. It was a Pelican paperback costing six shillings (a small fortune back then), a biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Kenneth Clark. I am assuming that I knew who da Vinci was, back then, but it is more than likely that I was attracted (as so often) by the cover which depicted a wonderful, fine line drawing of a stern-looking man wearing a fantastical helmet. I doubt I ever read the book, ...more
Oct 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, 2013-audio
I read a review by one of my friends on Goodreads thought it interesting so read the book. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” is shrouded in mystery and controversy for which Ross King has attempted to settle some of the mysteries regarding the painting. “The Last Supper” is in the former refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. It was Da Vinci’s largest painting; he painted it with oils on one of the refectory walls. Between the damp walls, Napoleon’s soldiers using the refectory as a sta ...more
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
May 12, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars.

I have lots of conflicting feelings about this book. The writing was good throughout. The parts about the gospels were excellent. The discussions about symbolism were all quite good. The science of 15th century painting was interesting. The many parts unrelated to The Last Supper were hard for me to get through (Lodovico Sforza, King Charles VIII of France and so many others that contributed nothing to the story). The vague references about Leonardo's possible homosexuality were unnece
Daniel Villines
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book in preparation for an actual viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan. I wanted to know the details surrounding the mural’s origins, it’s purpose, and the meaning behind the images chosen by Da Vinci. To this end, Ross King created a book that fulfilled all of these interests, and more.

King uses da Vinci’s mural as the center of a story that reaches out in all directions. Milanese history, biblical foundations, da Vinci’s life, religious practices, social norms, and p
Devon Van Duinen
Dec 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sajith Kumar
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
The Last Supper and Mona Lisa are the most famous paintings in the world. Even those who have no exposure to the world of art recognize these two pictures as the epitome of craft and style that made its beginning in Renaissance Italy. After a long gap of five centuries since they were painted, the pictures continue to evoke a sense of wonder in enthusiasts and remain a source of fascination in which new definitions and discoveries are still being made. Leonardo da Vinci painted both these pictur ...more
Sep 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle, art
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
Sep 27, 2012 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
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
I started this book thinking I would be reading about the painting of the Last Supper. If that's all the book had been about, it would have taken maybe two chapters.

Instead, the book was a mishmash of items totally unrelated to the Last Supper including war in Italy, clothes Leonardo and his assistants wore, how many children and wives his father had, what diseases people had, and what Leonardo's sexual orientation might have been.

It also seems like every other sentence had the word "maybe", "as
Cassandra Kay Silva
This book seems a bit scattered. It doesn't really delve into the painting itself except in about three chapters towards the middle t3/4ths and a few bits here and there. It randomly selects other things from Leonardo's life and works, which to some may be amusing, but to me made the work feel less on point. I appreciate the information and much of it was new to me and always enjoy reading about Leonardo in general.
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Czarny Pies
Jul 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those looking for somethingto read on the airplane
Shelves: art-architecture
Ross King has once again produced a fabulously entertaining book about a major work of art that answers most of the questions that will come into the mind of a tourist of my ilk. His lively text masks the fact that he is always very cautious and orthodox in his comments.

In many ways, "Leonardo and the Last Supper" is the unhappy doppelganger of King's earlier work "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" (2002). Both works were about major frescoes of the Italian Renaissance. The tone of "Leonardo
Joseph Raffetto
Nov 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, art
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
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'll see the Last Supper in a whole new light after reading this engaging history and explanation of the painting. Also learned a lot about the very interesting Leonardo, who did more stage sets and costumes than he did paintings; loved wearing purples capes, pink hats, and pink tights; was always late in delivering commissions -- when he finished them at all; was more interested in designing war machines than in paintings; who had accomplished almost nothing by the age of 40; but who had an und ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
It was fine. The author tries to tie Leonardo's painting of the Last Supper mural into the wider political happenings of the day in Milan and Italy as a whole. It doesn't really work to well to inform us of the painting itself and even there the book falls flat with much of the book devoted to either generalizations regarding Leonardo, his process and the work specifically.
Ross King has done better. Specifically with The Judgement of Paris.
Nov 06, 2012 rated it liked it

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

Sep 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, art
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
Oct 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Charles Lewis
Feb 08, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Kristie Kercheval
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Who knew there would enough material to write a book about one painting? I loved this book. It's been a month since I finished and I like to re-tell some of the stories in it, like about what happened to the clay model of Leonardo's giant horse statue he never got to finish. Or how Leonardo felt at times like never really had "arrived." Or that he really just wanted to make war machinery, but always got overlooked for engineering jobs. Young Leonard had trouble focusing and finishing things, and ...more
Gerald Matzke
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
H Wesselius
Mar 03, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
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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.


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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.” 3 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.” 3 likes
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