LEONARDO'S INCESSAN TLAST SUPPER
Original to the point of provocation, veteran art historian Steinberg (The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art), a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, has long been a legendary figure in his field. This fascinating new study is as much about the idea of Leonardo's famous Last Supper in Milan as the actual, ruined painting itself. Most critics have seen Leonardo as wishing to freeze a single moment in time, but Steinberg asserts convincingly that the table scene portrays "successiveness and duration." He makes lively contemporary parallels, from a magazine cartoon of The Last Supper, with Jesus telling a waiter, "Separate checks," much to the astonishment of the disciples, to the ballet Agon by George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, which, like The Last Supper, also contains infinite groupings that add up to 12 protagonists. In chapters like "Seven Functions of the Hands of Christ," Steinberg adds multiple layers of complexity to the work, shown repeatedly in 201 b&w illustrations and a four-color gatefold insert. There are intriguing aphorisms sure to lead anyone who cares about art to much pondering, like calling The Last Supper "probably the only great painting that earns praise for being symmetrical." Among numerous lengthy appendixes is a particularly useful one on later copies of Leonardo's masterwork. After reading this delightfully stimulating excursus, art lovers everywhere will still regret the painting's ravagement by time, but an intellectual achievement of this order is a real consolation. (Sept. 1)
Forecast:The more The Last Supper deteriorates, the more interest it seems to generate. Most casual and serious readers of art history will find the combination of Steinberg and Leonardo hard to resist, and academic collections will not want to be without it. This will be a big book in the field this season, and the painting's fame should lead to some generalist reviews.