Leonardo and The Last Supper
Ross King’s new book tells the behind-the-scenes story of the creation of one of history’s greatest masterpieces.
'This is quintessential King territory, and his uniquely detailed, far-ranging, and engrossing chronicle of the creation of this revolutionary masterpiece ... perfectly complements his best-selling Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (2003). Himself an exceptional portraitist and craftsman, King brings to precise life a fully dimensional, irresistibly audacious, and wizardly Leonardo and his powerfully affecting, miraculously surviving mural ... Readers will love the dramatic, vivid, and brainy mix of biography and art history.'
—Booklist (starred review)
'An absorbing study of a disappearing masterpiece … King places the painting in its political, social and artistic context, describing both the meaning of da Vinci's work and the violent 15th-century Italian world that spawned it … King plumbs the painting's religious, secular, psychological and political meanings, registered in the facial expressions and hand positions, the significance of the food on the table and, most fascinatingly, the salt spilled by the betraying Judas … King's book is an impressive restoration—the author helps readers see this painting for the first time.'
—Kirkus (starred review)
Early in 1495, as a French army rolled through Italy, 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. Despite a number of prestigious commissions, he had reached the age of 43—more than the average life expectancy for the day—without having completed a major work that fulfilled his astonishing promise. His latest failure was a giant bronze horse to honour Lodovico Sforza’s father. After he had spent the better part of a decade planning the monumental sculpture, his 75 tons of bronze were expropriated to be turned into cannon to help repel the French invasion.
The commission to paint a religious scene in the refectory of a Dominican convent was a small compensation for Leonardo after this dispiriting loss, and his odds of completing the mural were not promising. Not only had he never worked on a painting of such a large size—15’ high x 30’ wide—but he had no experience in the extremely difficult medium of fresco. He therefore had to invent a new and largely untried method of applying his paints.
Leonardo and The Last Supper shows how despite being frustrated by war and political turmoil, and beset by his own insecurities and logistical difficulties, Leonardo created a masterpiece that would forever define his reputation. But this timeless masterpiece is also very much a document of its time and place. The book reveals dozens of stories embedded in the painting, from the food on the table—a dinner of eels—to the hand gestures of the Apostles and the models used by Leonardo, whose mural was intended to celebrate the Milanese court. As King shows, Leonardo even included his self-portrait among the Apostles.
Many of the myths that have grown up around The Last Supper are wrong, but its true story is even more intriguing. Bringing to life a fascinating period in European history, Leonardo and The Last Supper presents an original portrait of one of history’s greatest geniuses through the lens of his most famous work.
'King gives us a gripping account of how that painting was created … [and] deftly situates the painting in a historical context — against political events in Italy at the time, religious attitudes of the day and contemporaneous developments in art — and also places it in the context of Leonardo's career… [a] fascinating volume.'
—The New York Times
'Ross King reveals the painting in a light that is novel and fascinating yet also scholarly. As with a previous title, Brunelleschi's Dome (2000), his scrupulous excavation of social, political and religious texts, as well as art historical sources, permits him to tell a familiar story as though it had never been told before.'
'A meticulous telling of the genesis of Leonardo's great fresco … The strength of his account lies in its mass of absorbing detail, which builds into a truly immersive portrait of an era.'
'King has the gift of clear, unpretentious exposition, and an instinctive narrative flair … an engaging and unusually intimate view of one of the great icons of western art.'
'A rich account ... While the picture can no longer draw the viewer into the room shared by Christ and the apostles, King's book does succeed in taking the reader into Leonardo's vivid world.'
—The Sunday Times
'King ... has an infectious relish for the gaudy, brutal and brilliant world of the Italian Renaissance ... Anyone wanting a vivid souvenir … should be perfectly content with a post-card and a copy of this engaging book.'
—Mail on Sunday
Leonardo da Vinci was a polymathic genius, but he was also playful, fanciful, funny—and often angry about the mistreatment of animals. Ross King shows the Leonardo behind the paintings, as the artist tells the tales he might have told at court and to friends over dinner, including fables about animals and a funny story about monks. King's perceptive narrative guides us through this little-known Leonardo: his bestiary, fables, jests and riddles. It's a revealing portrait of a Leonardo unknown to all but the most diligent and perceptive of scholars, beautifully illustrated with images from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.
Available exclusively from Levenger: www.levenger.com
Beginning in 1912, Defiant Spirits traces the artistic development of Tom Thomson and the future members of the Group of Seven—Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley—over a dozen years in Canadian history. Working in an eclectic and sometimes controversial blend of modernist styles, they produced what an English critic celebrated in the 1920s as the 'most vital group of paintings' of the 20th century. Inspired by Cézanne, Van Gogh and other modernist artists, they tried to interpret the Ontario landscape in light of the strategies of the international avant-garde. Based after 1914 in the purpose-built Studio Building for Canadian Art, the young artists embarked on what Lawren Harris called 'an all-engrossing adventure': travelling north into the Canadian Shield and forging a style of painting appropriate to what they regarded as the unique features of Canada's northern landscape.
Sumptuously illustrated, rigorously researched and drawn from archival documents and letters, Defiant Spirits constitutes a 'group biography', reconstructing the men's aspirations, frustrations and achievements. It details not only the lives of Tom Thomson and the members of the Group of Seven but also the political and social history of Canada during a time when art exhibitions were venues for debates about Canadian national identity and cultural worth.
'King, an admirably industrious researcher and deft writer, splendidly braids together the lives of eight painters, the seven members of the Group and Tom Thomson. His skill and intelligence make Defiant Spirits an essential addition to any library of Canadian art history.'
'With his usual spirited prose and faultless research, King makes internationalists of the Group of Seven, showing them responding and reacting to the art of their day and the socio-political upheavals brought about by the First World War.'
'In Defiant Spirits, Ross King tells the story of the Group of Seven as it has never been told before. He does for the Group what in his much-acclaimed books he does for Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Meissonier: sets out an articulate context, digs out a ton of new information, packs in lots of juicy details and tells a story elegantly and compellingly, as if it were a mystery novel. Without a doubt, a definitive, major, thorough, mesmerizing and thrilling addition to Canadian art history.'
—David Silcox, author of The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson
'With remarkable speed and enthusiasm Ross King weaves anecdote, biography, social history, sound research and perceptive analysis in a fluid narrative that pulls the reader along. Situating the ideals and practices of the Group members within the national and international contexts of their own individual histories, he shines new light on and raises new questions about this much debated and popular movement.'
—Charles C. Hill, Curator of Canadian Art, National Gallery of Canada
Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of The Prince—a handbook on power that is one of the most influential and controversial books ever written—was no prince himself. Born to an established middle-class family, Machiavelli worked as a courtier and diplomat for the Republic of Florence and enjoyed some small fame in his time as the author of bawdy plays and poems. In this discerning new biography, which the Times Literary Supplement has called the best introduction to Machiavelli written in English in the past fifty years, King rescues Machiavelli's legacy from caricature, detailing the vibrant political and social context that influenced his though and underscoring the humanity of one of history's finest and most notorious political thinkers.
'A convincing portrait of one of the most misunderstood thinkers of all time ... King's book is everything a short biography should be and more, thanks to King's sharp wit and zesty anecdotes ... A riveting and exhilarating read, full of salacious details and brisk prose.'
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
'While "Machiavellian" has become a common epithet, Niccolò Machiavelli himself remains an indistinct figure, a situation Ross King aims to rectify by casting a vivid light on the controversial political philosopher ... [He] knows the period inside out and works overtime to bring this intriguing figure to life.'
'A scholarly examination of hot-blooded political intrigue to rival all those potboilers on the fiction lists ... In this sympathetic new biography, rich with colourful anecdote, King puts flesh on the serpent's bones.'
The Judgment of Paris tells the story of two very different painters. In 1863, the French painter Ernest Meissonier was one of the most famous artists in the world. The darling of the Paris Salon—that all-important public art exhibition—he painted historical subjects in meticulous detail and sold his works for astronomical sums to collectors who included the Emperor Napoleon III. Édouard Manet, on the other hand, was struggling in obscurity. Famous today as the father of Impressionism, he was once known only as the painter of a few much-derided canvases depicting absinthe-drinking beggars and bourgeois gentlemen in top hats.
With his usual narrative brilliance and eye for telling detail, Ross King takes the parallel careers of Meissonier and Manet and uses them as a lens for their times. Beginning with the year that Manet exhibited his ground-breaking Dejeuner sur l'herbe and ending in 1874 with the first Impressionist exhibition, King plunges us into Parisian life—on the streets and in the corridors of power—during a ten-year period of social and political ferment. The struggle between Meissonier and Manet to get their paintings exhibited in pride of place at the Salon was not just about art, it was about how to see the world.
'A brilliant book.'
—The Independent on Sunday
'A tour de force.'
—New York Times Book Review
'So thorough is King's grasp of the Second Empire's cultural politics, so ironic his wit and choice of detail, his text remains a page-turner throughout.'
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
'An exhiliarating book.'
'A marvelously well-structured history and a deeply pleasurable read.'
'Fascinating ... It makes me nostalgic for a time I have never actually experienced: a time when art and culture mattered enough to make people march in the streets.'
A New York Times bestseller, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling tells how Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four years earlier, at the age of twenty-nine, Michelangelo had unveiled his masterful statue of David in Florence; however, he had little experience as a painter, even less working in the delicate medium of fresco, and none with the curved surface of vaults, which dominated the chapel's ceiling. The temperamental Michelangelo was reluctant, and he stormed away from Rome, risking Julius's wrath, only to be persuaded to eventually begin.
Michelangelo would spend the next four years labouring over the vast ceiling. Ross King tells the story of those four extraordinary years. From Michelangelo's experiments with composition of pigment and plaster to his bitter competition with Raphael, who was working on the neighbouring Papal Apartments, he presents a magnificent tapestry of day-to-day life on the ingenious Sistine scaffolding and outside in the upheaval of early-sixteenth-century Rome.
'Ross King deftly stitches modern Michelangelo scholarship into his fluent and gripping narrative. The result is a delightful book that overturns many legends.'
'Scrupulously researched, written with panache, Ross King's Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling is a sublime peek into a remarkable era.'
—The Miami Herald
'A fascinating and carefully researched account.'
'A narrative that never falls back on exaggeration or deviates from the facts.'
—The Sunday Times
'Ross King expertly wipes away such smudges from the story of this great painting, only to uncover a truth even exciting and improbable ... Now that art lovers can see the painting as it was originally conceived, this fabulous and eminently readable history will help them appreciate that it was no immaculate conception.'
—San Francisco Chronicle
'Demythologises and dramatises without hectoring or debasing ... King makes the familiar fresh.'
A Top-10 New York Times and No. 1 Boston Globe bestseller, Brunelleschi's Dome is the true story of how the Florentine goldsmith Filippo Brunelleschi bent men, materials and the forces of nature to build an architectural wonder we continue to marvel at today. Denounced at first as a madman, Brunelleschi was celebrated at the end as a genius. He engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone, built ingenious hoists and cranes (some among the most renowned machines of the Italian Renaissance) to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air, and designed the workers' platforms and routines so carefully that only two men died during the decades of construction—all the while defying those who said the dome would surely collapse and personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him.
'A wonderfully vivid little book.'
'An adventure yarn set on the wild frontiers of human knowledge ... abounding with excellent stories.' —Financial Times
'As interesting as the architect's triumph proves, his distractions prove even more revealing about the era.'
'One of architecture's great tales.'
A cryptic summons to a remote country house launches Isaac Inchbold, a London bookseller and antiquarian, on an odyssey through seventeenth-century Europe, charged with the task of restoring a magnificent library destroyed by the English Civil War. As the story moves between Prague and the Tower Bridge, Inchbold's fortunes—and his very life—hang on recovering a missing manuscript. His discovery reveals that the lost volume is not what it seems and his search is a move in a treacherous game of underworld spies and smugglers, ciphers and forgeries.
'A sweeping intellectual thriller ... Ex-Libris is a must for anyone who enjoyed Iain Pears' monumental An Instance of the Fingerpost or Arturo Perez-Reverte's magnificent The Dumas Club.'
—The Denver Post
'An ingenious intellectual puzzle.'
'This book would [also] appeal to those who enjoy English language and a turn of phrase, and appreciate literary style as an artform itself.'
—The Daily News
'A rollicking good yarn.'
'Entertainingly crammed with the appurtenances of Gothic romance, castles, secret codes, shadowy crypts, spies, mysterious coach rides, a distressed noblewoman, black-clad assassins.'
Domino is the story of the mysterious and beautiful Lady Beauclair, the castrato singer Tristano, the naïve George Cautley, and Eleanora, mistress and muse. Suspenseful, menacing and laced with black humour, this picaresque tale of art, artists, patrons, and ne'er-do-wells in 18th-century Venice and London is filled with surprises, victories and tragedies, told with the pace of a thriller and the richness of a restored old painting.
A New York Times 'Notable Book', The New York Times Book Review, Christmas 2003
'Evokes engrossingly and brilliantly the sights, smells, language and manners of late eighteenth-century London.'
—Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx
© Ross King.