Leonardo: The Man Behind the Genius

Ross KingWhat you don't know about Leonardo da Vinci that would make you love him even more

Or so goes the through line of Ross King's talk  with Kirk Lapointe (Event #12) about his book "Leonardo and the Last Supper", which King lavished with such details as Leonardo's favourite colours, his weapons of mass destruction, his genius, his late-life vegetarianism, his handsome legs, and of course one of his renaissance-era jokes about two friars and a business man that somehow manages to remain timeless with King's droll and erudite delivery. 

 With "Leonardo and the Last Supper", King took a subject (the Last Supper painting) and an individual (Leonardo da Vinci) that most people think they know and tells them the true story behind the two (which has nothing to do with Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code he'll have you know). There is hardly any other artist in history that is so familiar a name on our tongues and yet so little known, some 500 years after his ascendancy in 15th century Milanese court. 

King sums up Leonardo's genius thus: "He used his brains as well as his hands to paint. He thought the painting." And thus, a seismic shift in the art world took place after the flamboyant, handsome, jocose da Vinci -- who seems like a prophet of the 20th century -- brought his multidisciplinary genius to the canvas. 

At the same time that da Vinci was working on the last supper, he was also studying geometry, architecture and anatomy. As King puts it: "He saw that disciplines were connected in a very deep way that tells us about the universe. Leonardo knew that everything was linked to painting and painting was linked to them." 

And thus, we arrive squarely at the heart of what makes King's writing tick with, as The Guardian puts it "instinctive narrative flair". Here is an art historian and non-fiction writer who launches off a single piece of art in the hands of a single artist in a slim window of time and manages to weave a fecund narrative around it by examining how everything - Leonardo's reprobate boyfriend, the role his illegitimacy played in his fate, the geopolitics at the time - connects to that story. 

 As for his next project, King was tightlipped but did offer this: "What I love doing is taking art and history and personality and telling the story." 


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