The Secret Supper
Leonardo da Vinci is the patron of thrillers these days – despite the fact that he was, and indeed one might argue still is, the most accomplished artist of the Renaissance, whose versatility and achievements are nothing short of astonishing. It is therefore difficult at times to read a novel in which someone of his inimitable stature has been reduced to an agent of occult sciences, less interesting for the glory of his art than for the cryptic enigmas hidden therein. Nevertheless, Javier Sierra’s The Secret Supper does its best to give us a more fully developed portrait of the artist, even as it careens into the well-trodden territory of conspiracies and lethal opponents intent of ridding the world of those who question the Catholic Church.
Here, an officer of a secret society of inquisitors is sent to 15th-century Milan at the behest of his superiors, in search of a deadly anonymous informant called the Soothsayer, whose letters are full of accusations that Leonardo – currently painting The Last Supper on the wall of a Sforza chapel – is a heretic intent undermining the scriptural foundation of the Church. The inquisitor has very little to go on, yet he reaches Milan determined to root out the heresy and discover the identity of his malevolent informant. Suffice to say, he gets more than he bargained for as he becomes drawn into Leonardo’s extraordinary world. Unfortunately for us, he remains at heart a narrow-minded and underdeveloped character who cannot hope to hold a candle to the extraordinary presence of the artist. The novel comes alive whenever Leonardo is present, and while the conspiracy itself is less shocking than expected, there remains an inherent fascination in the author’s underlying framework of mysterious Gnostic texts and literary puzzles of the Renaissance.