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The Man Who Painted the Dining Room Wall,
This review is from: Leonardo and the Last Supper (Hardcover)
All that survives of Leonardo da Vinci's work are about fifteen paintings and a collection of notebooks and sketches. The Last Supper is the most famous of those works, along with the Mona Lisa.
In the first half of his book, Ross King tells us the story of Leonardo's first forty years - his childhood, and apprenticeship, his work as an artist in Lorenzo de Medici's court, his move to Milan and his work for Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The second half concentrates on the three years that Leonardo spent planning and painting the Last Supper. The final two decades of Leonardo's life, and the continuing life of The Last Supper, are summarized in the final chapter.
The story of Leonardo's life is a familiar one, but Ross King weaves new tidbits among the well-known stories. For instance, Leonardo was an excellent student at school, but he was unable to conquer pesky Latin verbs. And a possible clue to his accent is in his spelling. Spelling was less regimented than it is today, in Italian as well as in English (remember Shakespeare's many spellings of his own name.) Leonardo's spelling Venezia as "Vinegia" may approximate his pronunciation of the city's name.
The Last Supper mural is a story all by itself. Leonardo had no experience painting frescos and had never painted anything as large as this was to be. He hadn't volunteered for the project, and the wall to be painted was in a refectory, a dining room for the friars, not exactly prime real estate for a painting Leonardo hoped would add to his reputation. But money talks and the Duke of Milan had offered Leonardo a huge commission to paint the wall.
Leonardo took three years, to the consternation of the friars who used the refectory, and while the painting is universally considered a masterpiece, it would have been fortunate had Leonardo also been a better chemist than he was. The painting was flawed, not in its artistic composition, but in the materials and the application of the paint to the wall. Leonardo had not only been learning fresco painting on the job, he also tried experiments with alternate paints and applications. The results were beautiful, but fragile.
The mural he spent years to complete began deteriorating almost immediately. Recognizing the brilliance of the perspective and composition of subjects as well as the beautiful colors, other artists copied the fresco and from those nearly contemporary paintings, restoration work has been possible.
King tells a great history and there are many details about how Leonardo decided on the composition of the fresco, the mechanics of creating the painting, and how the mural has since taken on a life of its own.