"The Secret Supper"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAY 1, 2006)
Although Javier Sierra's The Secret Supper makes for an interesting read at times, it is certainly no The Da Vinci Code. It lacks the dynamism, action, power, real suspense, complex plot, subplots and two-dimensional but larger than life characters of Dan Brown's bestseller. Mr. Sierra's writing is uneven - ponderous at times, well paced at others....but, perhaps the problem lies with Alberto Manguel's translation. The general idea behind the storyline is fascinating enough, I think, to make this a novel worth reading - but be warned, a masterpiece it is not!
The year is 1497. In Rome highly placed Papal officials are receiving ominous communications from a mystery man - the "Soothsayer," who predicts dire consequences if the work of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper continues. This anonymous witness "denounced the beginnings of a vast sorcerer's operation in the lands of Ludivico Il Moro." This was the period when the Dominican zealot monk, Savonarola, preached against the Pope in Florence. He had acquired quite a following. He also spoke out with hatred against the Renaissance, which was thriving, bringing about artistic and religious transformation. Florentine painter, sculptor, draughtsman, Leonardo da Vinci, a universal genius who typified the Renaissance man, was also an architect, town planner, inventor, scientist, writer and musician in his prime. He came under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici and then, in 1482, he entered the service of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, called Il Moro because of his swarthy appearance, where he was active as artist, architect and military engineer. Sforzo commissioned the genius to portray Christ at his last meal with his disciples in the Milan's Church of Santa Maria della Grazia.
Like The Da Vinci Code, this novel, published in Europe in 2004, deals with an alternative interpretation of early Christianity and the Gospels, far different from that of the orthodox Catholic Church. Secret symbols are discovered embedded in great artistic works, namely da Vinci's The Last Supper, and a canvas commissioned by the Milanese Franciscans which was supposed to be a depiction of the Immaculate Conception. Instead, Leonardo painted a canvas entitled The Virgin of the Rocks, portraying Mary and the Archangel Uriel hiding in a cave with the infants Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist, during their flight to Egypt. No such scene is recorded in the Gospels.
Leonardo was suspected of being devoted to the Church of John, as opposed to the Church of Peter. It is known that he was accused of finding inspiration for his work in the heretical friar Amadeo of Portugal. The Secret Supper deals with the mysteries behind these paintings. Also, as with The Da Vinci Code, there is a murderer on the lose, wreaking havoc throughout.
Father Agostino Leyre, the head of intelligence for the Dominican Order is sent to Milan to find the Soothsayer and investigate his claims - claims that the Duke wanted to turn his duchy into a new Athens, modeled after the Greek state during the Golden Age - that he planned to cast aside the Bible and the Church's tenants and transform his domain into "the capital of philosophy and science" like that of the ancients under Plato and Aristotle. A key to this plan was to be found in Leonardo's painting of The Last Supper."
It is important, I believe, to know something of the complex politics of the period, especially those on the Italian peninsula between the various duchies and the Vatican states, to understand many of the nuances in this tale. Unfortunately this historical background, which would have significantly enhanced the storyline, is not adequately provided. If you are interested in reading more about 15th century Milan, the Italian Duchies and the Papal State's struggle to dominate Italy, the Sforza family, the d'Este sisters, Leonardo da Vinci and his work, then Karen Essex's Leonardo's Swans would make an excellent prequel for The Secret Supper.
- Amazon readers rating: from 31 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Secret Supper at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Lady in Blue (1998)
- The Templar Doors (2000)
- Napoleon's Egyption Secret (2002)
- The Secret Supper (2004; March 2006 in US)
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- Official website for Javier Sierra
- Official website for The Secret Supper
- BookReporter.com interview with Javier Sierra
- Grumpy Old Bookman review of The Secret Supper
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About the Author:
Javier Sierra was born in the northeastern Spanish town of Teruel in 1971.
He conducted his first radio program at the age of twelve. By the time he was sixteen, he was writing articles and at eighteeen he was one of the founders of the international magazine Año Cero. He published his first novel in 1995. At twenty seven he became the editor for the Spanish monthy magazine Más Allá de la Ciencia (Beyond Science). He is well known in his native Spain; he has done a lot of radio and TV.
He has visited more than twenty countries, probing their mysteries. While in Turkey, he sought and found the controversial map that proved that Christopher Columbus arrived in America thanks to previous navigational charts made priot to 1492. He also has been to Peru to participate in archaeological digs to find the lost Incan gold.
He lives in Malaga on the Costa del Sol in Spain.