Sunday, July 05, 2015

Review: Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King

I was talking to my tour guide in Florence about books about the city.  She mentioned Ross King's Brunelleschi's Dome, which I think I may have a copy of, but have never read, and then someone else mentioned that Ross King had also written a book called Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling. That's when I remembered that I had an unread copy of Ross King's Leonardo and the Last Supper on my kindle. Well, I felt like a fool because in the weeks leading up to my trip, I was trying to find books that might enhance the trip and didn't even think of these.  And days earlier I'd visited The Last Supper in Milan. So I debated between downloading Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling and trying to hurry and read it before visiting the Sistine Chapel (Rome was the next stop after Florence) or going ahead and reading Leonardo and the Last Supper.

I went with the book on Leonardo because, well, I've developed something of a fixation on Leonardo da Vinci over the past couple of years.  The more I learn about him, the more interesting he becomes and the more I want to know.  Also, I decided to read this because I already had it. Duh. I ended up really enjoying this book.  I think part of the reason I liked it so much is because I had recently viewed The Last Supper and spent some time in Milan and Florence - both cities that feature in this story.  So I almost think I got more out of it by reading the book after viewing the work rather than before. The book reinforces the things I'd learned from my tour guides and I could more easily recreate what I'd recently seen as I was reading the book.

I'd also visited an amazing da Vinci exhibit in Milan, and during that saw a lot of the work the book mentions, especially the model and sketches for the horse sculpture Leonardo wanted so much to make. 

But at the same time, I do not by any means think you need to make a trip to Milan to view The Last Supper in order to appreciate this book.  There are quite a few photos and illustrations in the book to provide you with necessary visuals.
This is a great book. So much information, presented in a way that is accessible to someone, even if they don't have a strong art history background. It's nonfiction, but written in such a way that it is thoroughly entertaining and reads like a story, not a history lesson. (Not that there's anything wrong with history lessons, but you know what I mean.) King brings da Vinci to life and discusses, not only the Last Supper, but also the events in the artist's life that led him to that point, and the circumstances of the area in which he was living.  I thought I was fairly knowledgeable about da Vinci, but I learned a lot I didn't already know. Reading this also made me realize that quite a few scenes in the show da Vinci's Demons that I thought were pure fiction are actually based on facts.

I was on vacation while reading this, and supposed to be spending most of my time out sightseeing, the book was just for times when I was waiting on trains or planes or something to read before going to bed at night. But I found myself staying up later than I should, or taking longer at breakfast or lunch than necessary to get in more reading time because I didn't want to put this book down.  

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in art history or Leonardo da Vinci or Italian art and/or history.  Very enjoyable read.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

No comments: