"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

Were it not our book club selection, I doubt I would have chosen this book and had I not agreed to lead the discussion, I most likely would not have finished it.  Leonardo and the Last Supper is a dense, sometimes laborious read.  Filled with historical, political and cultural information to provide a context for Leonardo's famous painting, this book is not for the reader who reads chiefly for entertainment.  It reads like a series of an art historian's lectures rather than historical narrative (such as the work of Candace Millard, a much easier read).

But if you read to learn, or also read to learn, this book is  worth every one of the 275 small print pages.  King provides a rich tapestry of data about the players - the European monarchs and popes and artists,  and the times - the High Renaissance in Italy - that generated the iconic mural that continues to fascinate after more than 500 years.    He details the reasons the Last Supper took so long to complete and why it is sadly deteriorating.  And he creates a deeper understanding of the charismatic and brilliant genius who would have preferred a career, and fame, as an architect and military engineer. 

 We had a lively book club discussion, as the variety and depth of information allowed for everyone to contribute from a different angle.  Be forewarned that if you prefer to use a reading guide, I couldn't  find one.  Didn't create a problem, however.  All I had to do was ask "What did you learn?" and "What most fascinated you about the book?" and we were off and running.

 At the conclusion of our discussion, I asked, "Would you recommend this book?" and to a person, the response was, "It depends."  I, we'd, recommend this to anyone fascinated by  the period, the artist, the work and/or the controversy around it.  (A caveat - King loves the detail, the names, the dates, the obscure vignettes.  There are pages of footnotes, in themselves an interesting read.) In the final analysis, I can't recall a book I've learned so much from in many years.  If that tweaks your interest, at least check out Leonardo and the Last Supper.