Leonardo and the Last Supper is my third or fourth Ross King book, I'm not really sure. One of them: Brunelleschi's Dome, you'll see down along the right hand column under 'great.' Leonardo won't be on the 'great' list. was that too abrupt?
Its been a while since I've read one of Ross King's books, pretty much everything I read now ends up on this blog and there aren't any of his books listed on 'the books' tab, so its a few years anyway. I also read one about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which was also very good. This latest installment wasn't up to those standards however, and I'm not sure why, but I have some guesses. In order for my guesses to be proven out, I'd have to go back and do a little comparative analysis, but that's not going to happen; this isn't science I'm doing over here.
Here's my guesses for what I think is missing from this book, when compared to the other two I mentioned. First, historical data. King seemed to be short on it, as is everyone else, and he did an admirable job in putting together this story from what seems like not very much. He had to rely quite a bit on other biographers, and then suggested that maybe those other biographers were wrong, or at least weren't above conjecture. Second, there isn't much to the story; da Vinci took a number of years to paint the Last Supper, but that seems to be because he was always busy doing something else. There isn't a whole lot of information about how the panting/mural was done, who worked on it, or what happened day-to-day. For that matter, there isn't much information available about what da Vinci was doing during this time either. So that brings me to my third point, the book is more filler than substance. Because so little is know about what the master was actually doing and how he did it, this book is more about what was going on in Italy at the time, centering mainly on his sponsor in Milano, Ludovico Maria Sforza, or as he was known, Ludovico il Moro (Ludwig the Moor.)
The Sforza story is a very interesting story, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Leonardo's name in the title was more about selling books than a true reflection of what this story is about. "Il Moro and Leonardo's Last Supper" might have been a better title given what I read. I'm not saying you shouldn't read this book, especially if you are a fan of Leonardo da Vinci, just don't expect that King uncovered some amazing treasure trove of lost information about him.
Last complaint: there are a handful of color plates in the center of the book, but no image of da Vinci's Last Supper. No where in the book, in fact, is there an image of the entire work.