Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King - review
Charles Nicholl admires a study of one of the great icons of western art
The story of Leonardo’s creation of the work has now found an ideal chronicler in Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, which have won plaudits for their concise, close-focus study of great renaissance achievements. King has the gift of clear, unpretentious exposition, and an instinctive narrative flair.
King’s most adventurous claim in this area is that St James the Less (the second apostle from the left) is a self-portrait. He is shown in profile, and compares quite well with the red-chalk profile portrait of Leonardo by Francesco Melzi. But that was done at least 12 years after The Last Supper was finished. (A probable portrait much closer in time is in the the remaining fragments of a fresco by Leonardo’s friend Donato Bramante, painted in Milan in the 1490s.) This apostolic self-portrait remains an intriguing possibility, nonetheless: more food for thought from a book that offers an engaging and unusually intimate view of one of the great icons of western art.