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article imageReview: Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King Special

By KJ Mullins     Jan 22, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - When we think of Leonardo Da Vinci the image of a brilliant artist comes to mind, not a party planner but in truth Da Vinci did just that. In Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King we learn the truth instead of the myth of this incredible man.
Ross King took time for a phone interview this week in Toronto to discuss his book Leonardo and The Last Supper and the who Leonardo really was. Years of research has allowed King to have a special connection to Da Vinci, understanding who he was and how his time in history defined what we understand about him.
"In my book I hoped to distill what Leonardo's character was from those five years that he worked on The Last Supper," King said, clearly impressed by the man. "I also wanted to show that despite the fact that Leonardo was absolutely brilliant he didn't always succeed. Everyone fails, including Leonardo. He, like everyone else, had to do things at times he didn't want to do and he dealt with not getting jobs that he desired. I think of Leonardo as the 'Patron Saint of Losing the Dream Job'."
Leonardo had a habit of not finishing jobs. His overpowering genius at times proved to be a sort of 'to smart for his own good' trait. "Leonardo would dig so deeply into a project, immerse himself so far, that in the end those projects were never finished," King explained, "One of his character flaws, if you could call it a flaw, was that he was so interested in everything that he couldn't settle down on one project."
Many of the world's geniuses seem to lack being able to be part of the world on a social level, but not Leonardo. "Leonardo was very sociable," King said, "That's not to say he didn't upset people. I can image the husband of Mona Lisa wasn't pleased that he never received his painting for instance."
Leonardo was known for not finishing the job. When he opened his first business as a painter during his late 20's he didn't finish anything. "I think he didn't want to be a painter," King joked.
Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King
Leonardo and The Last Supper by Ross King
Charles Taylor Prize
Had Leonardo been able to capture his dream job the world would never have witnessed the beauty of his art. He wanted to be an architect or military engineer and create weapons of mass destruction.
Leonardo did have a job. He was the Duke of Milan's painter and engineer. It was a lofty position that came with a healthy pay cheque. It also came with some positions that many may not associate with Leonardo such as being a general handyman at times.
"I think that Leonardo enjoyed the handyman aspect to his job. He enjoyed working with his hands and problem solving. He strives to create a better quality of life," King related.
Another of the tasks that Leonardo had for the royal court was putting together performances, sometimes monthly, for the Duke. These performances were state of the art creations and all of Milan would be witnesses to the acts. "More people saw his performances than his paintings during this time period. I think Leonardo would be shocked at what he is remembered for," King said noting that in life only about 25 people ever viewed the Mona Lisa.
In today's world Leonardo would be considered homosexual but for his time period Leonardo was within the norm. During the Renaissance it was normal for a young teen boy to have an affair with a man in their late 20's or early 30's. Men married at around 25 or older to a much younger woman. "A person's sexual identity wasn't defined by the physical act. It should be noted that Leonardo never did have a relationship with a woman," King explained adding that today's sexual orientations would have confused Leonardo.
In 1494 Leonardo is thought to have started work on The Last Supper. It was at this time that he purchased his first Bible.
"Leonardo was a book collector. He used the Bible to research his painting. There are many versions of The Last Supper from this time period but Leonardo wanted his to have Gospel truths," King said, "He wanted to tell the dramatic yet factual story, the ultimate tale of betrayal. Leonardo would be bemused by today's idea that John was really Mary in the Last Supper. For Leonardo the ideal of beauty was that of an ambiguous adolescent boy, which is what we have in John." Leonardo also loved blurring the lines when it came to the sexes which can be seen in many of his paintings.
For King being able to look at the historical documents to debunk the myths to get to the truth is the prize of his book. "Playing off those myths, finding the truths and discovering that the truth is much more interesting that those myths ever could be is what is exciting!"
Leonardo and The Last Supper is the third book by Ross King to be shortlisted for the Charles Taylor Prize. The book also has won the 2012 Governor General's Literary Award.
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