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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 failed, despite a number of prestigious commissions, to complete anything that truly fulfilled his astonishing promise. His latest failure was a giant bronze horse to honor Sforza's father: His 75 tons of bronze had been expropriated to be turned into cannons to help repel a French invasion of Italy. The commission to paint The Last Supperin the refectory of a Dominican convent was a small compensation, and his odds of completing it were not promising: Not only had he never worked on a painting of such a large size15' high x 30' widebut he had no experience in the extremely difficult medium of fresco. In his compelling new book, Ross King explores howamid war and the political and religious turmoil around him, and beset by his own insecurities and frustrationsLeonardo created the masterpiece that would forever define him. King unveils dozens of stories that are embedded in the painting. Examining who served as the models for the Apostles, he makes a unique claim: that Leonardo modeled two of them on himself. Reviewing Leonardo's religious beliefs, King paints a much more complex picture than the received wisdom that he was a heretic. The food that Leonardo, a famous vegetarian, placed on the table reveals as much as do the numerous hand gestures of those at Christ's banquet. As King explains, many of the myths that have grown up around The Last Supperare wrong, but its true story is ever more interesting. Bringing to life a fascinating period in European history, Ross King presents an original portrait of one of the world's greatest geniuses through the lens of his most famous work.
Ross King is the highly praised author of Brunelleschi's Dome (the Book Sense Nonfiction Book of the Year in 2000), Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (on the New York Times extended bestseller list), The Judgment of Paris, Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power, and two novels, Ex Libris and Domino. He lives outside Oxford in England.
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“King gives us a gripping account of how that painting was created...[and] deftly situates the painting in a historical context… [a] fascinating volume.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“The story of Leonardo’s creation of the work has now found an ideal chronicler in Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, which have won plaudits for their concise, close-focus study of great renaissance achievements. King has the gift of clear, unpretentious exposition, and an instinctive narrative flair” –Charles Nicholl, Guardian