“Tell me if anything was ever done?”
These words were scribbled several times by Leonardo da Vinci in his sketchbooks around the time he finished painting “The Last Supper” in 1498. Commissioned by Lodovico Sforza, the duke of Milan, it graces the wall in the refectory of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan, Italy.
I read Leonardo and the Last Supper, by Ross King, 2012. Much has been written about the Renaissance artist and arguably his second most famous painting (after the “Mona Lisa”), and this is the most recent. It is a well researched account of the influences on the artist for the painting, ranging from the political, social, religious and economic state of the day, right down to Leonardo’s sexual and gastronomic tastes. Certainly when I get the opportunity to see “The Last Supper”, I’ll know what to look for and study during the brief period one is allowed to view it in the church.
King describes how Leonardo developed the painting to be a story told by hand and body gestures. This reminded me of how my sculpture, “Winds of War – the Presentation to Paris” has a very similar theme. Nice to know I’m in good company!
As I was reading, I was reminded of an important aspect to Leonardo’s career. While he was a great starter, he rarely finished a project. According to King, Leonardo’s reputation for this soon caught up to him. Ironic that one of history’s most famous artists hardly finished many artworks. Perhaps this is why Leonardo did not receive many of the commissions he longed for, such as for military weaponry, architecture and paintings. King does not mention how Leonardo hated sculpture, especially stone sculpture and that he felt it was inferior to painting. He and Michelangelo were heavy rivals.
Near the end of the Fifteenth Century, even the great Leonardo da Vinci was feeling insecure as evidenced by his scribblings. So in times of self reflection when I am feeling insecure about my work, I’ll remind myself that unlike Leonardo da Vinci, I have indeed taken thousands of art projects to completion.
However I, along with Leonardo and every other artist always long for more.