"A wonderful journey into the wellspring of Leonardo’s creativity."
- Prof. Frederick Steier
"A deeply engaging and refreshing book, and a rich portrayal of the artist’s character."
- Dr. Kerul Kassel
"A highly original insight into the gestation of Leonardo da Vinci as the leading artist of the High Renaissance"
- Dr. Bernard Luskin
"Isbouts and Brown unravel a fascinating mystery, with surprising results."
- Dr. Richard Appelbaum
The 19-year restoration effort of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper fresco at the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan has revealed a rather sobering fact: only some 20% of the original painting is still visible. The subtle chiaroscuro, the attention to texture and optical effects that are the hallmarks of Leonardo’s style are all but lost – victims of the artist’s experimentation with oil-based pigments and the corrosion of the wall. Does that mean that we will never be able to see what the original Last Supper painting may have looked like?
This question is the starting point for Young Leonardo, a book by art historian Jean-Pierre Isbouts and his co-author, Dr. Christopher H. Brown, published by St. Martin’s Press in May of 2017. This provocative book traces Leonardo’s development as an artist from his early years in Florence to the culmination of his work at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza in Milan. The last two chapters take the reader on a hunt across Europe for a life-size canvas copy of the fresco, which the authors believe was commissioned by none other than the King of France, Louis XII, some five years after the completion of the fresco. As it happened, Louis XII had invaded the Duchy of Milan in 1499, just as Leonardo was putting the finishing touches on the painting.
In between, the book sets out to unravel many other questions that remain about the work of young Leonardo. For example: what is the real reason why the Adoration of the Magi, the seminal work of his early Florentine period, is unfinished? Why did Leonardo decide to move to Milan, a court known more for its wealth than for the quality of its artistic endeavors? And why did Milan’s ruler, Duke Ludovico Sforza, ignore Leonardo for so many years, only to recruit him for mostly secondary works, such as portraits of his mistresses?
This, perhaps, is the greatest of all myths about Leonardo da Vinci: that he enjoyed a prosperous career as the favored “court artist” of the Duke of Milan at the center of the Milanese artistic circle. In fact, the opposite is true.
As this book shows, all of the truly important commissions that emanated from the court of Milan—for church frescoes, monuments, and “Sforza propaganda art”—went to Lombard artists who were much less talented but certainly a lot more dependable. This begs the question whether Leonardo should be considered a “court artist” at all.
Even the Last Supper fresco, about which scores of books have been written, still harbors many mysteries. For example: what is the relationship between the Last Supper and the fresco of the Crucifixion, which was begun on the opposite wall at exactly the same time as Leonardo began his painting? Is there a hidden program between the two? Young Leonardo was written to answer these questions, and to try to unravel some of the mysteries that are still attached to Leonardo da Vinci, a painter from Florence.
YOUNG LEONARDO was optioned by Pantheon Studios, Inc. of Santa Monica and is currently in production as a feature-length motion picture, featuring a distinguished cast including the Italian actor Alessandro Demcenko as Leonardo, as well as contributions from top Leonardo scholars around the world.