Leonardo and the Last Supper

Written by Ross King
Review by Alana White

This time out, Ross King, novelist and bestselling author of biographical nonfiction focusing primarily on the Italian Renaissance (Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling), fixes in his crosshairs Leonardo da Vinci as Leonardo struggles to define his talent and find recognition in 15th-century Italy. King moves easily from Leonardo’s birth and early days in Florence, where his few commissions are seldom completed, to Milan, where the gigantic bronze horse he has begun work on is dismantled to forge three cannons. In its place, suddenly he is handed a new project: painting one wall of a church dining hall with a mural that surely few people other than the church’s Dominican brothers would ever see.

King’s narrative is entertaining and movingly told. Leonardo was an ambitious and often frustrated man who had difficulty harnessing his art and his dreams, a man who explored why the sky was blue, went mountain climbing, and wanted work as a military engineer, then found himself facing that refectory wall in Santa Maria delle Grazie with no knowledge in the technique of fresco—one renowned as the most difficult painting technique to master. Overall, this new work is an invaluable addition to all things Leonardo.