Jean-Pierre Isbouts & Christopher Heath Brown, Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472-1499 (2017, Thomas Dunne Books)

Such a shame it was that Leonardo da Vinci’s Milanese masterpiece “The Last Supper” began chipping and deteriorating even before the artist died in 1519 due to an experimental fresco formula. However, a recent discovery has led two authors to publish a book that has heads turning and minds changing. On what?

Although no one disputes the genius of Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci, few realize exactly how poor a condition his Milanese masterpiece “The Last Supper” is actually in. In fact, only about 20 percent of the original fresco remains, which has led scholars to one simple conclusion: We really have a minimal conception of what the original painting looked like.

Two authors, however, have suggested in a new book that an extraordinary discovery — a life-sized canvas of “The Last Supper” discovered in a remote Belgian monastery — was by the hand of Leonardo and his studio, thus giving scholars the clearest picture of the fresco as it would have appeared upon completion.

Co-authored by Professor Jean-Pierre Isbouts and connoisseur Christopher Heath Brown, Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472-1499 forwards a heap of evidence to suggest the above theory is indeed fact. Among the topics considered in the book are how the authors discovered that Leonardo and his workshop painted a second “Last Supper,” a life-size version on canvas, just seven years after the original fresco was completed; how the canvas still shows “The Last Supper” in all of its brilliant hues and tones; and how the canvas was discovered to have been commissioned by the French King, Louis XII, explaining Leonardo’s personal involvement with the project.

Regardless of where you fall on the argument, the book should be a fascinating read. To learn more, visit here.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


  1. Thought the following might be of some interest. The Royal Academy of Art in London owns a magnificent copy of The Last Supper which was borrowed to use in the restoration of the fresco. At present the RA’s copy is in Magdelen College Chapel, Oxford but, will be returned to the RA some time next year, I think. If you go on the RA website, collections, you can see a photo of it.

    The Last Supper, ca. 1520
    Oil on canvas, 3020 X 7850 mm
    After Leonardo da Vinci.

    Purchased from H. Fraville, 23 June 1821

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    Leonardo’s Last Supper (ca. 1495-98) in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, was commissioned by his patrons Duke Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d’Este. The painting represents a scene from the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 21, when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles will betray him. Unlike some earlier depictions of the Last Supper, Leonardo does not give all the apostles halos with the exception of Judas but instead casts Judas’ face into shadow to distinguish him from his fellow Apostles.

    The Last Supper was executed not in traditional fresco, but in tempera and oil paint on a dry wall. The original has deteriorated very badly as a result of this experimental technique and the dampness of the wall on which it is painted. Giampietrino’s early copy, possibly painted around 1520, is almost the same size as the original but lacks the top third of Leonardo’s composition. It does however shows details that are not now visible in the original, such as the salt-cellar overturned by the right arm of Judas and the feet of Jesus which were lost when another door was inserted in the refectory wall.

    The Royal Academy bought this copy for six hundred guineas from an H. Fraville in 1821. The earlier provenance of the painting is not known apart from the fact that by the 17th century it was in the Refectory at the Certosa in Pavia. The Royal Academy were delighted to be offered this painting as they were ‘of the opinion that the possession of such a work would be of essential benefit to the Schools of the Academy’, according to the Council Minutes of 11 June 1821. It was intended as an example for the students to emulate, and in 1825 Henry Fuseli, in his capacity as Professor of Painting, was able to deliver his eleventh lecture in front of this magnificent record of the original glory of Leonardo’s now-faded masterpiece.

    Giampietrino’s copy of the Last Supper is on diplay in the chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford.

  2. I am Christopher Brown, one of the authors of Young Leonardo and you are absolutley correct . Giampietrino’s copy is mentioned and discussed in our new book and it was painted in the 1520s as you stated…There are many things I enjoy about this copy however this is not a copy by the hand of Leonardo Da Vinci (also referred to as After Leonardo Da Vinci in your well written supplement ) . The Tongerlo Canvas however is by the hand of Leonardo and was made specifically for the French King. Like the Virgin of the rocks, Leonardo allowed Halo’s on later works to pacify the donor.
    I enjoyed your well written supplement very much .



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