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Milan, 1496 and forty-four-year-old Leonardo da Vinci has a reputation for taking on commissions and failing to complete them. He is in a state of professional uncertainty and financial difficulty. For eighteen months he has been painting murals in both the Sforza Castle in Milan and the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The latter project will become the Last Supper, a complex mural that took a full three years to complete on a surface fifteen feet high by twenty feet wide. Not only had he never attempted a painting of such size, but he had no experience whatsoever in painting in the physically demanding medium of fresco.
For more than five centuries the Last Supper has been an artistic, religious and cultural icon. The art historian Kenneth Clark has called it ’the keystone of European art’, and for a century after its creation it was regarded as nothing less than…[more]
While the Civil war raged in America, another revolution was beginning to take shape across the Atlantic, in the studios of Paris. The artists who would make Impressionism the most popular art form in history were showing their first paintings amid scorn and derision from the French artistic establishment. Indeed, no artistic movement has ever been, at its inception, quite so controversial. The drama of its birth, played out on canvas, would at times resemble a battlefield; and, as Ross King reveals, Impressionism would reorder both history and culture as it resonated around the world.
The Judgment of Paris chronicles the dramatic decade between two famous exhibitions—the scandalous Salon des Refusés in 1863 and the first Impressionist showing in 1874—set against the splendor of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, and its dramatic fall after the Franco-Prussian War. A tale of many artists, it revolves around the lives of two, described as “the two…[more]
In 1508, despite strong advice to the contrary, the powerful Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to paint the ceiling of the newly restored Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four years earlier, at the age of twenty-nine, Michelangelo had unveiled his masterful statue of David in Florence; however, he had little experience as a painter, even less working in the delicate medium of fresco, and none with the curved surface of vaults, which dominated the chapel’s ceiling. The temperamental Michelangelo was himself reluctant, and he stormed away from Rome, risking Julius’s wrath, only to be persuaded to eventually begin.
Michelangelo would spend the next four years laboring over the vast ceiling. He executed hundreds of drawings, many of which are masterpieces in their own right. Contrary to legend, he and his assistants worked standing rather than on their backs, and after his years on the scaffold, Michelangelo suffered a bizarre form of eyestrain that made it impossible for him to read letters…[more]